by Anjali Appadurai
What do you do when you finally realize the true, terrible scope of an issue you have been optimistic about for years?
It's the difference between reading the word "genocide" and finally comprehending it. It's that moment when your stomach drops with a dull thud as the truth hits you and swallows you whole.
Climate change is no joke. If global emissions don't peak before 2020, we have less than a 40% chance of achieving the two-degree warming target that has been touted so much in the media. And that two-degree target is in itself off-base; we need 1.5 degrees or less of warming in order to preserve a livable world for most. When stakes are this high, a 40% chance is at best grim. Moreover, no matter what we do to stop emissions – even if everything magically stopped and emissions dropped to zero – we would still have locked in a certain amount of irreversible damage.
It's looking like a battle humanity may lose. What does a student activist – or really anyone who cares – do when this realization hits home? The answer: you make some tea, sit down to write a blog post, and remember the bottom line.
The bottom line is so simple and yet remains lost in the political morass of UN talks: The ideal outcome for the climate issue — or any issue of inequity — is a rules-based system that prioritizes justice and the improvement of conditions for the world's poor and for future generations (of which the world's poor will still be worst off). The bottom line is the lessening of inequality at the fringes of a system while working for system change from the core.
Even as we approach the scientific deadline with the world's leaders not yet having breached the impasse of political apathy, there's always this common denominator to fight for. When we pass this deadline (because we almost certainly will), it's still the bottom line to fight for. Within the time frame humanity is left with, there must be equity now and in the future. This is a moral issue, a question of principles and values. I operate by the light of a tiny candle that illuminates humanity's potential to come together unified by some notion of justice. Without this unifying foundation we are simply disparate specks of dust, ephemeral on the biosphere and meaningless to each other. But this is an implausible image to me — humanity's interwoven history tells too many stories of a deep-running vein of something more meaningful. And I believe that we are seeing a slow uncovering of this vein through my generation and the next.
It seems that to fight for morality in a world as depraved as the multilateral system is foolish; however, I would pose the opposite question: what else is there to fight for?
I daresay that is why this small delegation from a tiny school is posted in this arid corner of the world. An unconventional, inconvenient presence among the leaders of the world, we are here to remind them of their buried humanity and the unavoidable imperative of justice.