A huge event called the Conference of the Parties Climate Summit is happening in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec.11. It’s going to include over 50 countries, environmental leaders, businesses and other key players to try to come up with a global agreement to address climate change. The conference has two main objectives: 1. Present concrete commitments from a whole range of territorial players and 2. Submit specific proposals for commitments from non-state actors to be acknowledged in a bold climate agreement.
This type of “global” climate talk may sound familiar to you because there have been several climate talks in the past. The first official United Nations talk like this was in 1995 in Berlin. Since then, there have been many more talks of this kind in various places around the world, but none that have led to extremely groundbreaking actions on a global scale. Part of the reason why there hasn’t been as much bold action is because there wasn’t as much of a push to do so. Now, however, more and more people around the world are realizing the negative effects of climate change or are suffering from the current tragedies associated with it. With the more immediate realization for action, it seems like more and more leaders are concerned with the urgency of the issue.
So that’s cool, there are a bunch of big world leaders meeting to talk about ways to combat climate change, but where do we fit in here? Well, I think we fit into putting pressure on world leaders to make bold moves in moving forward, but also in creating change in our own local communities. Both, simultaneously, can help. Climate change is about more than just environmentalists caring about the planet. It has already tragically affected people today (one recent example being Hurricane Patricia) and will take every type of person with different passions and interests — doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, students — to really make the change.
There is an existing organization called 350.org that strives to bring all of these people around the world together. This organization was started by economist Bill McKibben to create global grassroots movements to keep the amount of carbon dioxide in the air at 350 parts per million (the estimated safe amount of carbon in the atmosphere). Right now we are past 400 parts per million, which is scary and dangerous, but shouldn’t mean everything is doom and gloom. For the past few months, 350.org has been organizing climate talks, discussions and questions, and is planning on having a worldwide climate march Nov. 28 through 29 to demand climate action from the leaders in Paris. It is expected to be one of the biggest climate marches in history.
Do these marches really make a difference in policy making? Do we actually have a voice when big organizations with lots of money and power are often times up against us? Absolutely. It seems like a lot of people our age (myself often included) aren’t as engaged with politics. You don’t see our generation marching out on the streets as much as in the past and oftentimes I think we feel bogged down by the crazy globalization and polarization of politics in the United States. There are people listening though, and the march of a bunch of people across the globe in solidarity is definitely a motivator to come up with a better framework for combatting climate change and to spark local action.
In order to make meaningful change, action must happen on all levels — local, state, federal and international. The most powerful of these actions often comes from the people putting pressure on the big scary power systems. Try a climate action step in November, check out 350.org’s website or encourage your leaders to make a more ambitious climate action plan. There is no silver bullet solution to climate change, which means we can get creative. Ask yourself: Do we want to hold onto business as usual and watch the world crumble or do we go toward a path that allows us to work together and create a more beautiful future?
Erica Bjelland is a senior Global Studies and Environmental Studies double major hailing from Decorah, IA. She likes to keep her iCal full by being co-president of the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA), a member of the President’s Sustainability Council and Student Government Association, and a bassist in the Concordia Orchestra. When she’s not living off her calendar, Erica spends time learning guitar, running, drinking coffee, fan-girling over Aldo Leopold, and discovering new ways to cook black beans.