Speak for Yourself

by Katie O’Brien

I cannot speak for anyone other than myself. It seems obvious—at least to me it does—because how can I speak on things I have not experienced myself? But this is exactly the problem with the UNFCCC process (and other processes as well but lets not go into that today): speaking on behalf of people. I suppose my statement wasn’t entirely true because in applying to be a Sierra Student Coalition delegate I was chosen (hopefully) with the confidence that I could accurately speak for and represent the SSC at these negotiations and in working groups. But I don’t think I can extend my power of speech beyond that. At the same time I feel like my voice is already represented and I feel that there are many others not represented. So I would like to speak for them but I cannot. I am privileged. I am a white, upper-middle class North American female who speaks English, has never had to worry about food, is able-bodied, of sound mind, and who goes to a private liberal-arts college in Maine. At the same time you can’t just boil me down to this. I am still a young person who cares about our future, I am a human and so I care about other humans’ lives and their experiences, and I am a being on this Earth who cares about what happens to its climate and to its biodiversity. My privilege has allowed me to speak about these cares but has silenced the voices of many South African youth and countless other peoples who have these concerns and more. And this is only within YOUNGO (the youth constituency). In the actual negotiations my voice is barely heard above the roars of those who represent me. So what about those who don’t even have the agency to come here and attempt to shout?

I suppose this is not a problem with all of the UNFCCC. I feel like many African and Small Island States are accurately representing their people’s sentiments. I’ve been to a few side-events with speakers from these areas and many of them reference their lives before being in government, back when they too were just people. They speak of their experiences in their lives of the effects of climate change where they are from. But like I said earlier, I cannot speak for them and really I have no idea what I am talking about. But as a Canadian and a pseudo-American, I can say delegations like the United States and Canada are not accurately representing their people. These delegates are listening to the corporations over the people; I suppose money is louder than real words. The delegates themselves are not to blame, the people did not choose the delegates, but someone the people thought represented them chose the delegates.

Maybe it sounds as if I am just going with the times of the Occupy movements, but I feel like this system is broken and I have for some time. I have felt for a long time that we need a more fair and accurately represented governing body. The system here is just as corrupted and convoluted as our political process at home because our politicians back home choose the people here.

Despite all of this I still am trying to work here and make a difference in some way. I am in the YOUNGO Water Working Group and we are working towards getting a larger focus on water, to us it seems to be only slipped in as footnotes and is ignored. But it has become apparent to us that this will take some time. Instead we hope to make some noise and establish this group and have a larger basis to continue this work. We have gained attention from other countries and organizations looking for the same thing and we hope we can use our unique position as youth to bring these issues to more light.

Is this worth it? If this is such a broken system shouldn’t we work to fix the system or create a new one?

I feel I have to think that it is worth it. Just as how I feel it is worth it to fight for climate justice in the United States despite how many people tell me it is dismal. I have to fight because I never know who might hear me screaming my lungs out at what seems to be just a blank wall of a building filled with deaf people. And I remember that I have so many people here at the negotiations and back home who care just as much as me and are working just as hard or harder at making sure people hear us. I have to work at this because if I don’t than why should any of them work on it? We can’t let things continue the way they have. We have to be loud and we have to work at these issues until we can say they have been solved. That means working on them in all theaters, within this broken convoluted system as well as outside so that maybe, just maybe something actually happens.

#systemchange #governmentrepresentation #corruption #youngo #katieobrien #UNFCCC #climatenegotiations #climatechange

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