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Eugene, Oregon, United States
I believe my generation has the unique opportunity to save the world. If no action is taken, the world will see catastrophic climate change within the next half century, the cost of which will be measured in human lives. But at this pivotal moment, we have a window of opportunity. We can create the just, sustainable and prosperous future that we seek. I am a Vassar student spending my junior year at the University of Oregon, and I am going to Copenhagen this December to do everything I can to ensure that a mutual survival pact is agreed upon, not a suicide pact.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Future Lies within Each and Every One of Us

I’m sitting at the Copenhagen airport looking out onto the snowy sunrise outside (its 8:45am, and I’ve been up for hours, but the sun is just beginning to peek through the clouds in this perpetually dark country).  This airport is probably the most incredible airport I’ve ever been to. Its like a mix between an upscale resort, a luxury shopping mall and a fine art museum.  Everything runs smoothly, police officers joke with you as you whisk through security, carolers in santa hats stroll randomly through the halls singing Christmas carols (no kidding), and there are more high-end shops than boarding gates.

Just in case you want to buy a car on your way out

I decided to use my last few Kroners on my first real Danish, and as I enjoy it I realize  that there are a lot of things I didn’t get to do in Copenhagen.  I did not get a chance to see my dad’s favorite church in the world, I didn’t see the famous little mermaid in the Copenhagen harbor, I didn’t go to any museums or historic sites, I didn’t ride the amusements or stroll through the gardens in Tivoli, I didn’t go shopping at the magical Christmas markets (please don’t expect any Scandanavian Christmas presents, friends!), I didn’t even make it to Christiania, the (ex) ‘free town’ where people lived outside the jurisdiction of the government for years.

What I did get from Copenhagen, though, was the chance to witness the very best and worst of humanity all at once.  I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who sacrificed so much to come here to fight for the survival of vulnerable nations and future generations they will never meet, witness brave leaders of small island nations standing up to the most powerful countries in the world and demanding to be heard, and I was able to march with people from every demographic, generation and corner of the world in the freezing cold with a shared vision for a better future.  Then, all at once, I was made to feel helpless as we were pushed out of the conversation and forced to stand back and watch as a few politicians put their own political well-being before the lives of millions.  Experiencing this jarring dichotomy firsthand on such a large scale is something that I know will have a profound impact on many of us, and though I am still processing this experience, I’m sure I am not the same as when I first landed in Denmark.

I have always been one to work ‘within the existing system;’ I have always believed in lobbying and the political process.  But thousands of youth and other stakeholders came to Copenhagen to make our voices heard: We Want a Safe Future!  One hundred thousand people marched in the cold! Candlelight vigils for survival were held all over the world!  Twelve million people worldwide signed  a petition for a fair, ambitious and binding deal!  And yet, world leaders talked and talked and did nothing.  They ‘took note of’ a document which puts the world on a path to 3.5 degrees of warming by 2100.  This means that millions of people will die, and thousands will continue to die every day.  Coming to Copenhagen, I feel the burden of those peoples’ lives now more than ever.  Why doesn’t Obama feel this same burden?  

The snow outside is so peaceful, and the thought that life is just going to go on, blanketed by this very thin veil of a false sense of security, is hard to swallow.  I have had a glimpse of what lies beneath this white gild, and I know its grotesqueness.  But I also know that nobody is giving up.  With hardly a glance backwards at this tragedy, the international youth climate movement is moving forward.  Our movement has had a chance to coalesce here in Copenhagen, and we are now stronger than ever.  Representative Jay Inslee said that we should be prepared to be frustrated for the rest of our lives, and I think that is certainly something I have learned in Copenhagen: I have made a lifelong commitment, and it isn’t going to end when the Senate Bill passes, at COP16, or even at carbon neutral.

Fortunately, I am not alone.  We have all made this commitment, and the connections I have made here are more valuable than any souvenir I could have brought home.  The road will be rough, we will have many more disappointments and crushing defeats, but as long as we have each other, we will succeed.

"The future lies within each and every one of us" -Peter Roquemore

1 comment:

Let me know what you think!