U.S. Youth Demand Climate Action at UN Climate Negotiations
A dozen young activists line the moving walkway as negotiators make their way into the convention center for the United Nations climate change negotiations in Doha. They stand silently, holding signs and engaging those passing by with the intensity of their gaze.
Two young men stand on either side of a sign, holding it up and staring ahead.
“The fossil fuel industry has been bankrolling climate denialists and disinformers since before I was born.”
A girl in a hijab holds another.
“Fossil fuel industry groups spent upwards of $376 million on tv ads to influence 2012 elections in the U.S.”
The expression in their eyes is far more powerful than anything written on their signs, but the messages are uncomfortable and disconcerting reminders of the severity of our situation.
I read the signs in their hands and then look up at them as we silently stare at each other, eyes locking in solidarity. These are my peers and this is our fight. It’s the reason I am here, the reason I first joined the swollen ranks of 350’s mobilized youth campaign, the reason I signed on with the Adopt a Negotiator project, the reason I spent my Sunday morning walking along the streets of Doha with my peers from around the world as we made up the first climate protest in Qatar.
Experts and scientists have warned us that we cannot move beyond a 2 degree increase in temperature without putting strain on our food and water systems, yet recent reports from both the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Bank suggest that we are on course for a 4-6 degree increase.
President Obama has given lip service to the severity of this situation, but has yet to take the strong and dramatic action necessary to move us off the dangerous track we’re on. In Doha at the United Nations negotiations, the mandate Obama gave his U.S. negotiators, Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing, is at odds with the words he has issued to the American people and it’s at odds with the mandate the youth voted him in on.
Climate change is the most serious threat of our time, most severely impacting the people who have had the least to do in causing the problem. Youth around the world have risen up over the past few years to demand action against a threat we have had little part in creating, but whose consequences dig deeply into our future. Though younger generations have the most at stake, Hurricane Sandy, the droughts across the Midwest, and the wildfires in Colorado have demonstrated that this is a threat that reaches us all here and now, its hand closing around our collective throat. The president has promised us he will take this seriously, but his words do not equal his actions.
So now it’s up to us.
Bill McKibben and 350 are running a Do the Math campaign, encouraging students to petition their universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry, pointing out the discrepancy in the numbers between the gigatons we can burn to avoid moving beyond a 2 degree world (565) and the gigatons the fossil fuel industry has in reserve (2795).
But this isn’t the only numbers problem.
Youth activists from the American organization, SustainUS, rallied together in Doha to protest climate inaction and highlight the discrepancy between Obama’s words and his actions, pointing out that the math of what was promised and what was delivered doesn’t add up.
The U.S. is committed to a palsly 17% reduction in emissions, an unambitious figure that hasn’t changed since the Copenhagen negotiations three years ago and isn’t likely to change in the near future. President Obama and his negotiators tell us that they would like to do more, that they believe we should do more, but that the political gridlock in Congress won’t allow them to move forward. Congress argues that there is too much uncertainty to act. Of the 13, 940 peer-reviewed scientific articles written on climate change in the last ten years, only 24 deny climate change is happening. Congress can no longer use a lack of scientific consensus as an excuse to delay action.
It’s our job now to secure our future, to push back against a Congress that receives $167,000 a day from fossil fuel industry groups. We must stand up against a Congress beholden to the fossil fuel industry and remind them that our future is not for sale. The U.S. negotiation position in international climate negotiations and the lack of climate legislation at home are at odds with our values, our character, and or ability to rise up to a challenge. We need a fair and ambitious deal and we need it now. We are rapidly losing our window of opportunity to do anything and the only group with enough passion, energy, and conviction to push back against the odds is the youth.
Gathering together in the halls of the convention center in Doha, we demand action abroad and at home. Linked arms, raised voices, and alert eyes, we echo the words of the Philippines delegate who demanded of his fellow negotiators, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”