By YES! Coordinator Sarah Gainey
Imagine a place where you can charge your device and make a smoothie by riding a bike, attend high quality lectures, discussions and movies all day long, and be surrounded by others from all over the world who are also committed to educating others about climate change. That was my experience as I spent a week in Paris at the COP21 climate negotiations.
I traveled to Paris as part of the delegation from Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict, which has observer status for COP21. I am not part of the delegation that attended the negotiations, but instead spent my time in the Climate Generations area that was open to the public and full of events all day long.
I have many reasons for wanting to participate in COP21, but mostly I went because I am interested in offering experiences for youth that focus on climate change. I have found in my initial scholarly research and personal experience that most youth are not climate literate, but when given the opportunity to become climate literate and start to make a difference in the fight against climate change, their contributions cannot be ignored. I went to Paris hoping to find inspiration and ideas on how to engage youth in Central Minnesota and I attended a session last Monday that did just that!
I was fortunate to sit in on a session presented by UNICEF Youth Ambassadors from all over the world. These were young students who have taken direct action to educate themselves and their peers, families, and communities on the effects of climate change. They came to COP21 with their direct calls to actions for negotiators to both include youth in the decision-making process and to listen to their ideas. These youth are coming from places where the effects of climate change are more immediate and devastating than in most other parts of the world, such as the Philippines, where the speaker’s entire village was wiped out by a typhoon in 2014 and she wasn’t able to go to school for months. Another speaker from central Africa said he is having to spend most of his energy finding and bringing back water for his family instead of spending that energy on going to school. Yet despite these challenges, these students are committed to stopping and fighting the effects of our changing climate. They have more intimate knowledge of the effects of climate change than I or any of the students I teach ever will. But it is their drive to make positive change that I will bring back with me.
I look forward to sharing what I learned and experienced with my YES! teams, especially the youth’s stories and passion for change. For, as one of the students said, “What concerns everyone must be solved by everyone.” I fully believe our amazing youth involved in the YES! program are capable of the positive change needed to combat climate change.