I attended the COP25 Climate Conference in Madrid last week. A group of our students were invited to speak along with Michael Wadleigh of Science For Our Future Uncompromised. For the school newsletter, I wrote of hope and pride, and they were real. Proud for the opportunity for teenagers to stand up on a world stage and give voice to truth. Proud of their determination and courage. Proud of the honesty in their reflections of what they saw and heard and learned. Hopeful too. To see thousands gathered and focused on a making the world better, this is a hopeful thing. Mr. Sustainaclaus urging a non-consumer Christmas. A law professor lecturing on the necessary legal framework for deep de-carbonization. A panel discussion on ways to engage in climate change conversation from bars and coffee shops in western Pennsylvania to small towns in rural Nigeria. This has to be good, right?
But the memory I didn’t share in the school newsletter, the memory that stands out for me was my conversation with the war correspondent in the brown bomber jacket. He stood out in that crowd of suits and dark, professional attire. Brown leather bomber jacket with a worn fleece collar. Green cargo pants. Sailor’s watchcap. A camera slung over each shoulder, criss-crossed like bandoleers in front. He was the one who asked if maybe the best way to frame the issue was as a war. Nations were all too ready to put up 50% of their GDP to go to war. We were fighting for the future, wasn’t that war enough. I spoke with him after the session.
“If they don’t come up with something real. Something that makes an actual difference, then this will be the last time this is a peaceful event.”
I thought about the young people who do not live lives of privilege. The millions whose lives are already under siege. Those who have woken to find the front line runs through their homes. I thought about the COP25 gift bag they gave all the Blue Zone attendees. The COP25 cap. The bamboo fork, knife, spoon, and straw set in a roll up cotton holder. The conference paraphernalia that spells out business as usual in 197 languages. I didn’t argue with him.
In troubled times, when danger arises. Voices emerge to warn. Sometimes they are heeded, other times scorned. We have our modern Joan in Greta. We can rise up and move ahead with her or scorn her as was Cassandra’s curse in ancient times. The science written on the wall is crystal clear. Equally clear, the trail of money spent to muddy the waters and deliberately confuse so that those who are in it deepest can get as much as they can, while they can.
I was proud of the students for raising their voices and speaking clearly of the moral imperative that stands before us. We must act individually and more importantly we must demand that our mostly absent leaders do their jobs and help bring about an ethos and way of living that does not extract at any cost and put profitability and growth as the ultimate and only ends. Growth unchecked is a cancer and, as Pogo observed many years ago,
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Or, maybe, this time and just in time, as the young activists chanted, “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.”