FINAL INITIATIVE (posted December 2, 2016):
Youth Reflections from COP22
This month, FHTE features reflection from three young climate activists who traveled to COP22 with Global Kids, a non-profit that supports young leaders.
Courtney Plummer, 16, Humanities Preparatory Academy
When my fellow youth climate activists from Global Kids and I learned that we’d be traveling to Morocco for COP22, we knew that we didn’t want to be passive bystanders at the event. We wanted our voices to be heard. We decided to participate in the Global Issues Network (GIN) Conference taking place during COP22 in Marrakesh. The conference would be a youth climate activism forum during COP22 for high school students from such varied places as Minnesota, Peru, locals from Morocco, and my Global Kids family from NYC.
My group and I found out that we were going to attend the GIN conference in the American School of Marrakesh about four weeks before we were set to leave. Global Kids, a non-profit educational organization, allows youth to be in the driver’s seat, to set goals, and accomplish them. We decided to present a Global Kids-style workshop labeled “Climate Justice Through a Human Rights Framework” at the GIN conference and prepared it ourselves. The Global Kids-style meant that we were going to create an experiential workshop through games and interactive formats on global, social, and political issues. It was my first time creating the content for a human rights workshop, leaving the country, and facilitating it for a group of youth that I had never met. My feelings bounced back and forth between excitement and nervous pressure to do a good job.
As a group, we worked together to make the content relevant to students from across nationalities and ages. We all worked together, broke up the workshop into chunks, splitting up all the tasks. We collectively decided who wanted to do what and what we were going to include.
On the day of the workshop at the American School in Marrakesh, I found flexibility was key! Adjustments on the fly during the workshop allowed us to have wonderful conversations and have a lot of fun. Looking around at the unfamiliar room, I took a pause to appreciate the day that had just unfolded in front of me. My participation at the Global Issues Network Conference was a powerful and interesting experience. It gave me the opportunity to see and learn from Moroccan youth, jump out of my US-centric perspectives, and understand why learning from people providing new windows into how to approach human rights and climate justice works.
Beyond our workshop facilitation, one of the biggest things that stood out to me about the GIN conference was the other international students that attended. One of the schools represented was The Green School based in Bali, Indonesia. The Green School is a private non-traditional school that does not use textbooks and bases their curriculum on current events. The school itself is constructed completely out of bamboo. Almost all the students at The Green School were international students from wealthier families who moved to Bali. Through conversations and observations, I couldn’t help but think of the “wealth factor” in regards to which students get involved in climate justice work. I noticed that most of the students who attended the conference were considered wealthy. Towards the end of the day, I spoke with two girls from a Minnesota school who mentioned they had to pay thousands of dollars to go on this trip. While so many of these students were extremely bright, thoughtful, and passionate, it made me wonder: “Were there many students who could be ambassadors for climate justice who simply couldn’t pay for these experiences?” None of us at Global Kids paid to attend this trip. A trip of this magnitude is not something almost all our families could just whip out without tremendous sacrifice. The theme of access would be with me throughout my time in Morocco.
Throughout the trip, I was reminded about the huge disparity between how the educated elite and the rest of society have access to learning about the grave effects of climate change. An 11th grade student at the American School in Marrakesh did a presentation on environmental crime and articulated how people below poverty line most often do not have a lot of access to the education surrounding climate change. The student shared that the advances being pushed forward in her home country of Morocco—such as widespread banning of plastic bags—was knowledge that was not being passed down to the local inner city markets and areas, creating a huge knowledge gap, which ultimately prevents the country from effectively combatting climate change.
My reflections from Morocco have affirmed more than ever that efforts to combat climate change must be looked at under an umbrella connected to issues of racism, socio-economics, even food production. Climate change is not just an issue for the natural world but one that affects the lives of all of its citizens, especially communities of color and the developing world. We need to find ways to educate all our citizens of the world (not just the wealthy ones) about climate change and how to stop it.
John Schwarz in the The New York Times wrote last February that, on average, “a (US) student receives no more than two hours on climate education.” As a school subject, climate change is very science oriented and can be very complicated and confusing. This can turn a lot of young people off. The main problem in youth getting involved with environmental activism that I see in my school, in my city, and the country is a lack of connection. Climate education is either not being taught or is not being made relevant to our lives or the lives of those that we care about.
The lens in which I approached all my interactions during my time in Morocco was seeing it as a comprehensive human rights issue. Global Kids did an excellent way of allowing me to explore those connections, planting seeds of interests. These seeds grew and grew as my immersive experience in Morocco during COP22 and the GIN conference allowed me to understand more deeply the necessity for strong climate change education for all. There is a need to understand w climate change, how to share that knowledge with peers, and think of new and profound solutions that are relevant to all citizens of the world.
Karoline Polanco, 15, Bronx High School for the Visual Arts
After weeks of late night prep sessions at Global Kids (a non-profit educational organization), three of my fellow youth climate activists, one Global Kids educator, and I, a NYC high school sophomore, traveled to Morocco to join thousands of participants—non-governmental activists and official delegates, alike—for the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP22. It was the culmination of all our hard work, and I was so excited to get there.
Less than a week into my trip, it felt like I had been here for a month. Our base was a youth hostel, Equity Point. It was filled with other youth climate activists. We had a chance to discuss climate justice issues with young people from all over the world, often late into the night.
These impromptu late-night night dialogues prepared me and filled me with excitement for the more official COP22 meetings and conferences that we planned to attend. To reach the location where COP22 was held, my group and I had to walk through the windy old city of Marrakesh and cross the largest square and marketplace, the Medina, in Africa. Once we arrived, we entered the zone open to the public, the “Green Zone.” The “Green Zone” was packed with people and ideas from across the world. It had a small but interesting area dedicated to youth climate activism. At one of the booths, I had a conversation with people from Climate Radio. I learned that Morocco only has about 20 FM radio stations and that “Climate Radio” was the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to be on FM radio with broadcasters from over six countries, including Palestine, Tunisia and Canada.
Throughout the trip, I was continually reminded of my “New York-ness.” From living in the Bronx, I am
accustomed to a certain type of bluntness. In Morocco, I found the people to be kinder and more generous with their time. I wondered if people acted toward me this way because I was a tourist or because I was a COP22 participant. Regardless of the “why,” the interactions that I had with Moroccans and fellow youth climate activists were very different than what I was used to at home.
My experience in Morocco was enlightening. Being at COP22 and traveling with my fellow climate activists from Global Kids created a setting that allowed us to have more open conversation about social justice and climate change issues. This trip provided us with opportunities to make collective choices as a group of young people, decide how we wanted to enrich our experiences, and glean more insights. It was powerful.
My eyes are wide open. I am grateful for this experience and cannot wait to see what the future holds.
Kate Scherer, 17, Notre Dame School of Manhattan
After months of anticipation and preparing, I landed in Morocco for COP22. I prepared the last three years for this trip as a climate activist, but, leading up to COP22, I prepped with my amazing team from Global Kids (a non-profit educational organization). Although our preparation would be helpful to us throughout COP22, it did not prepare us for our first steps in Africa. When we got off our six-hour flight from New York to Casablanca, we were greeted by complete darkness. Even in the shock and confusion of our arrival, we did what any person in the 21st century would do: we used our smart phones as flash lights and kept walking. I felt excitement as we rushed into the unknown. Even though the terminal was dark, we found our way.
Although we did not know what would lie ahead, the energy of Marrakech made me feel ready for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP22). Upon our arrival, it was clear that the city had been intensely preparing for the conference, much like ourselves. There were large signs advertising the conference everywhere you looked, and it was clear to even us that the city had been cleaned up. The city was also adorned with new art pieces that emphasized climate change. There were even solar trees at a train station. To most people, these preparations may have felt disingenuous or even forced, but they reminded me of why I was there and served as inspiration in the days to come. Marrakech was now an environment completely dedicated to the process of international cooperation, and I was reminded of this everywhere I looked.
I was lucky enough to feel the full energy of not only Marrakech but the climate movement first hand when we attended a Climate Justice march organized by 350.org in the heart of the city. As a young person, there really aren’t that many ways to contribute to the actual COP delegations, so we are forced to find other means of representation. I find our lack of representation particularly upsetting because my generation is the one that will be disproportionately affected. We have the most at stake. We need to find other ways to raise our voices, and we were able to do this by marching alongside hundreds of people. The march was dedicated to climate justice, and it strived to highlight the effects that climate change has on front line communities. Probably the biggest group in attendance was the Berber community, Morocco’s indigenous people, who, among other things, are suffering from a severe lack of access to water. We learned this on our way to the march when we met a young Berber man named Said. He described to us how his family had been living in the Atlas Mountains for generations as farmers. Now, because of extreme changes in weather, they no longer had access to water.
My colleagues brought poster board for us to make signs before the march. After some thought, I landed on a simple but important statement: “Americans for Climate Justice.” Throughout the march I was asked questions, posed for pictures, and was even interviewed by a radio station about my thoughts and feelings after someone saw my sign. To say the march left an impact on me would be an understatement. For the rest of my time in Morocco, I came back to the question of the importance of not just being a youth climate activist but being an American youth climate activist in the year 2016 and in the coming years of Donald Trump’s presidency and his extraordinarily concerning environmental stances.
From my experiences in Marrakech, I have realized when it comes to climate that the world still looks to the United States to be a leader. As the second greatest emitter of CO2 and one the richest countries in the world, the US is seen as a de-facto leader. This sentiment coupled with scores of conversations about America’s potential future role in combatting climate change in the wake of the election only reaffirms my drive and passion. It solidified my resolve to explore and learn from a whole host of professionals and youth committed to combating climate change in all corners of the earth.
These feelings only reaffirm how powerful the voice of youth must become in order to solve these issues.
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