By Ayla Yandow
It is a balmy 78 degrees here today by the sparkling crystal clear turquoise waters of Cancun, Mexico. I was thinking today, however, that the bulk of the time, most of us are complaining about how cold we are as most of the time we are wearing sweaters and pants in air conditioned conference halls. That made it all the more clear that we, representing the COA community, are 100% committed to taking on the challenge of helping to find solutions towards a sustainable future.
Most of my days here have been spent at Cancunmesse, where workshops, talks, films, booths and actions take place on all topics surrounding climate change. These are all events that you can get involved in as opposed to at the Moon Palace where the official climate negotiations are taking place, where you are just an observer. Some of the events I have attended so far include side events on sustainable agriculture, technology transfer, biodiversity, alternative energy, the youth movement and action, polar ice melting, the Third World Network and one about the magic number of 350, led by Bill McKibbin, just to name a few.
It is a zoo here, but the great thing is, is that I know that everyone here is here for a very similar purpose and is working towards a very similar vision as everyone else and that creates a strong energy of excitement and passion that is contagious. There are around 194 countries represented just within the official negotiators here and thousands of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations like COA). That’s a lot of people in one place who are committed to working for a sustainable future, and it’s wonderful, although we need to have the whole planet on board to make the significant changes that need to happen in order to stay below a rise in temperature of 1.5 degrees C, but it is a start at least.
Being here has really made the issue of climate change even more real for me as I hear all the different perspectives of the science. This planet-wide problem is moving at an enormous rate, already effecting millions of people, especially in poor developing countries and small island states. It is even clearer to me now that something huge needs to take place and it is going to take a lot of effort to reverse what we have done. I wish that, especially in the US, that this issue would become a reality in people’s minds because it seems that actions only take place when it is directly affecting us. If only people could see that since we are in the Global North that we are somewhat adaptable, but countries, especially in the Global South are extremely vulnerable and are already being dramatically impacted; and they aren’t even the cause of this, we are!
If we don’t slow down global climate change and get the atmospheric carbon down to somewhat manageable parts per million then we are going to see an almost 2 degree C spike in global temperature by 2050 and a 4 degree C increase by as soon as 2060 or 2070. To give you an idea of how serious that is, the global temperature has only risen about 8/10th of a degree C so far and already this is affecting millions of people and biodiversity worldwide. This kind of increase in temperature will also cause the polar ice caps to melt at an even faster rate, increasing sea level rise, greatly affecting, if not swallowing small island states and displacing millions. I saw a film the other day about this called The Polar Explorer that basically said that the polar ice shelves are melting about 10% per decade, so about 1% per year. If the ice shelves in Antarctica and Greenland melt completely, sea level rise is estimated to rise about 43 vertical feet, swallowing millions of acres of land. Plants and animals are also very susceptible to rise in temperature and many species will go extinct if we do not do something soon and fast.
These facts are not meant to depress you, although they are scary and very sad. What I am trying to pass on from this conference is the magnitude and implications of what needs to be done. These facts should only inspire people to act on a bigger level because the fact is, is that this is something that is happening and it will get worse. This is our future. It is wonderful to be surrounded by so many people who are committed to fighting climate change because it creates a light in the dark tunnel we are entering. This is a great thing because, at least for me, when I am working on a project with a few people or on my own concerning climate change, sometimes it is hard to see how I as an individual can have an impact on something of this magnitude. If everyone does something, we can all be part of the solution. Never lose sight of that.