Arctic explorer Will Steger and his foundation have led a team of Midwest youth on a different type of expedition: taking part in international climate negotiations. The 12 delegates from the Midwest have been blogging about their experience at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen the past two weeks. Here are some excerpts.
Monday Dec. 7
This afternoon, I met Erick, a lead negotiator from Tanzania. "Is the United States going to bring real solutions, or is it going to bring problems?" he asked me. "There is a lot that you can do as youth to influence your president and your negotiators. I'm counting on you." As youth who will be living in the results of climate change, this is not just a theory. This is reality, this is our future, and we can influence it. There is a lot of weight riding on our decisions.
This afternoon, the international youth held our first event inside the conference, a "flash dance" where immediately after the opening ceremony, hundreds of youth broke into a song that started with the phrase, "Ooooh, it's hot in here. There's too much carbon in the atmosphere."
-- Reed Aronow, community organizer, St. Paul
Monday Dec. 14
Yesterday's march was thrilling. An estimated 100,000 people participated in the demonstration, and as someone who was there, my brain could not comprehend the scale of this massive call for climate action.
The march consisted of 30 blocs with hundreds of people each. Expedition Copenhagen marched in bloc 5, which included youth constituents to the negotiations, 350.org, and the Tcktcktck campaign. Leading the march was the bloc of indigenous peoples. Our delegate, Aurora Conley, participated in this bloc.
I feel so lucky to have been able to take part in this day of action and feel energized to make the most I can of this next and final week of negotiations.
-- Maia Dedrick, Minnesota native and University of Michigan graduate
On the brink of chaos and swarmed in confusion, the masses take in all they can on the last day of total admittance to the Bella Center, the conference facility housing the COP15 negotiations. Admittance badges for civil society will be limited to 30 percent tomorrow, down to just 1,000 on Thursday and only 90 on Friday.
The conversation, pace and spirit is uneasy and fast-paced. Groups are trying to strategically place themselves in and around the center to ensure the greatest impact and coverage.
To thicken the plot, the G77 (developing) nations have just walked out of the negotiations due to a deadlock in conversation with developed countries. It's a debate of responsibility and equity in regards to carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. And although this walkout is a setback and the tension is high, many still talk with hope in their hearts, minds and voices.
-- Jamie Racine, a community and youth organizer in Wisconsin
On Friday, President Obama will arrive. As the head of the Norwegian Labor Party told me: "We are skeptical of President Obama after the weak proposal that the United States has put forward, but it is a hopeful sign that he is coming Friday instead of last week, because that is when there will be the greatest chance of a treaty."
Tonight, I went to see Al Gore speak. Gore asked, "Is there any message that you'd like me to bring with me to my meeting with the negotiators tomorrow?" This is my chance, I thought to myself. He called on me and time stopped for a second as I realized that I was about to ask Vice President Al Gore a question, but what would I ask? I started out by explaining that I am here in Copenhagen at COP-15 with Expedition Copenhagen and a United States youth delegation of 500, and that he needs to bring up the fact that this is our lives we are talking about. This is not just a theory, but something that will impact us and future generations personally.
Wednesday, Dec. 16
Many of you are probably wondering why this is happening or what it is achieving. While here I have had conversations with people directly affected by climate change. I met a boy from Bangladesh who told me about all the suffering he and his family have faced since a typhoon ruined his town. A boy from the Maldives, Mohamed Maumoon, explained to me that if his negotiators signed a bad deal, they would be signing a "suicide pact."
Clearly, emotions run high about the outcome of these negotiations, and many lives are on the line. (Global Humanitarian Forum estimates that at present 300,000 people per year die as a result of climate change.) Personally, I feel like I am on a roller coaster in which I waver between hope that we can make positive change and concern that there will never be a strong enough treaty to avoid further destruction.
I was able to attend a presentation today as Wangari Maathai was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace for her work with the Green Belt Movement and dedication to lifelong humanitarian efforts by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
Of the five questions asked by the audience, three of them were about youth and their influence on changing the world. When asked how youth could learn to become global leaders, Ban Ki Moon pointed out that the world needs not only politicians but humanitarians, people working on small-scale levels to make big differences. He also commented on the hope he gains from today's youth in working hard to shape a better world.
-- Jamie Horter, student, Augustana College.
This is a moment in which the entire world is watching, and really, the entire world is watching the United States in particular. At this conference, a wide array of fascinating people from various spectrums have joined. Representatives from non-governmental organizations, students, academic professionals, scientists, politicians, generally portraying the same consensus, that action on confronting climate change has to be taken now. The world has high expectations of us, and we hold a uniquely influential role on the rest of the countries.
-- Sarah Mullkoff, works for Clean Water Action in Lansing, Mich.