Here in Doha, Qatar, the second week of the UN climate negotiations is underway. The stakes are high. At these talks, world leaders decide what we will — or won’t — do about climate change. This is where the future of our species is being negotiated, with a deadline of 2015 to secure an agreement.
When I first learned about the negotiations, I thought about the world in which I want to raise my kids and knew I had to be there. I have traveled from Milton to Doha as a US youth delegate to take part in this process and advocate for my future.
What does it mean to be a US youth delegate? Our goal is to impact policy and change the outcomes of the conference. As youth, ours is the voice of the future. We represent young people across America, advocating reason and urgency, putting pressure on our government. We’re here to stop the double-speak and game-playing, expose injustice, and bring political risk to those who block progress.
We are working collaboratively with young people and civil society from around the world. We’ve been tracking policy developments and the negotiations, seeing what’s needed and where we can make an impact. We attend briefings, lobby our negotiators, do creative actions, hold press conferences, create media, and have hours of daily meetings. Our days are grueling, typically lasting 15 to 22 hours.
Climate change is personal. This is not an issue of future generations. Climate change is here, now, affecting us already. This year — one of the hottest on record in the United States — has been highlighted by extreme climate impacts from droughts and wildfires to the devastating Hurricane Sandy.
I’m a New Englander, and proud of it. I love our winter sports and the best seafood and fall foliage in the world. I want my children to be able to enjoy our state as we do now, but that future is under threat.
Climate change is expected to put half the MBTA underwater by 2040, as well as parts of Dorchester, East Boston, South End, the Financial District, and Back Bay. It is not only an economic threat, but a threat to the essence of what makes New England home.
I’ve spent a substantial chunk of my income and time to travel halfway across the world to Doha. Being here, I’ve chosen to sacrifice comfort, sleep, and probably some sanity. Why? I see no other choice. I want my children to grow up in the America I love, a land of opportunity, where our way of life is not overrun by the effects of runaway climate change. Coming here, doing everything I can to preserve a livable future, is my moral imperative.
If a regular kid from the Boston area has this moral imperative, our government must as well. Moreover, they also have a mandate, a responsibility, and an ability to get things done.
We’re living in a world where the temperature has risen less than one degree, and we’re already seeing the results. Yet right now, the world is locked on course for a temperature rise of four to six degrees by 2100 — a world that looks like something out of an apocalyptic disaster film. To avoid this fate, we need to mobilize like never before.
We need action from our leaders. In 2008 and 2012, the youth vote played an unprecedented part in the elections, carrying Obama to victory each time. We believed his promises for climate action. True, it’s hard to deliver on your rhetoric when the fossil fuel industry spends $167,000 each day to lobby politicians and millions each year in campaign contributions. Nevertheless, our elected leaders must be held accountable to us, and not to an industry that tries to buy our political process at the expense of our future.
The world is waiting for us, but instead of leading, we’re falling behind, losing ground to countries like China and Germany in the global green economy. If America hopes to remain a superpower and moral leader in the world, we must champion a bold response to climate change, both at home and at these negotiations. Obama has a clear mandate here, and a clear responsibility. It’s no exaggeration: the future of humanity will be written in this decade. When the world looks back on this moment, they will judge us on how we acted to solve this crisis. Obama’s legacy — our legacy — is a climate legacy. It’s still up to us. What will our climate legacy be?