The real heroes in the hall

 

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Greta Thunberg and her colleagues at Monday’s UN Climate Summit. image via Deseret.com

The weekend of September 21 and this week of September 23-27 are biggies in our world. The United Nations holds its annual General Assembly and debate each year at this time, and this week is its 74th meeting. Most of the world’s leaders and national spokespeople come from all corners of the planet to this highest-level meeting to discuss what is important to them, and to hopefully make or strengthen commitments they’ve already made towards supporting the work of the United Nations in many directions.

This year is an even more special one for the United Nations and world, due to the Global Youth Climate Strikes that were held the Friday before the General Assembly. On Saturday, Sept. 21, the UN hosted a Youth Climate Summit, and on Monday, a General Climate Summit for all interested parties to come together and give their practical ideas and action plans for how to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invited youth activists to speak at Monday’s Climate Action Summit. (Watch here)

In his opening remarks, Guterres spoke enthusiastically of the young people who had come to the summit demanding accountability and action by world leaders and actors. He proclaimed, “they are right.” Guterres said his generation has failed in its responsibility to protect our planet, and that must change. He claimed we have the tools we need, including the knowledge of how to reduce emissions and achieve the goals of the Paris agreement. We have the roadmap, in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. And, he continued, we have the imperative, irrefutable science, according to the IPCC report of 2018, that confirms we must stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise, or face irreversible and terrible consequences for humanity in this century. He went on to say that the IPCC report also shows it is still possible to create a future world that is livable, but only if we make drastic and fundamental transformations away from a world based on burning fossil fuels for energy. It will entail transformation in all areas of life, including land use, agriculture, economics, and transportation. The transformation also requires changes that will create “less suffering, and more justice and harmony for people and planet.” Guterres reiterated that there is a cost to doing everything, but the biggest cost is doing nothing. The biggest cost is subsidizing a dying fossil fuel industry, continuing to build coal power plants, and in order to change, we must admit that “we are in a global climate hole, and to get out we must first stop digging.”

Three young people came on stage after the Secretary General spoke. One was a young activist and lawyer from Brazil, who is fighting for the rights of indigenous tribes and youth in the Amazon from the continued exploitation and destruction of their lands by foreign oil and gas interests. Another was a young entrepreneur from India, now living in Singapore and asking for world leaders’ help to back and support youth start ups for inventions and innovation platforms to help those in countries where the digital divide remains, such as African farmers. And the third young person on the stage that morning was the invincible Greta Thunberg of Sweden, who is the person mainly responsible for sparking and mobilizing the global youth #ClimateStrike movement.  When the MC asked Greta what was her message to the world leaders, this was her response.  (Watch here)

My message is that we’ll be watching you.

This is all wrong.

I shouldn’t be up here.

I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean.

Yet you all come to us young people for hope?

How dare you!

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.

And yet I’m one of the lucky ones.

People are suffering.

People are dying.

Entire ecosystems are collapsing.

We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.

And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.

How dare you!

For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear.

How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency.

But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that.

Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil.

And that I refuse to believe.

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

50% may be acceptable to you.

But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice.

They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.

So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us –we who have to live with the consequences.

How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business-as-usual and some technical solutions.

With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than eight and a half years.

There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today.

Because these numbers are too uncomfortable.

And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

You are failing us.

But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.

The eyes of all future generations are upon you.

And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you.

We will not let you get away with this.

Right here, right now is where we draw the line.

The world is waking up.

And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

After Greta delivered her powerful and emotional speech, for a moment it seemed the audience was stunned, then broke into enthusiastic applause. Secretary General Guterres then followed up with his own reaction to their speeches. He thanked the three young people for their eloquent testimony, and remarked that “it is amazing and fantastic that young people around the world are not only standing up and speaking truth to power to ensure the world becomes committed to climate action, but they themselves are taking action towards providing solutions to the enormous challenges we face.” Guterres said it’s the duty of decision-makers around the world “to not only listen to the voice of young people, and to do what they ask us to do, but also to support them in their own actions for climate action around the world.”

As I continue to watch the world’s youth waking up, standing up, and literally shouting to world leaders to finally listen to the scientists and Take Action Now, I am more convinced than ever that truly the ONLY thing that gives humanity a chance for a future that is not utterly catastrophic and unlivable is their energy, determination, creativity and will to change how we are collectively living on this beautiful, damaged planet we call Home. The real heroes in the hall of the United Nations Monday are these young people who are telling the truth about the imminent danger we face. Greta Thunberg’s passion, frustration and emotional appeal to them encapsulated what many millions of us feel every day. Simply put, there is no magic bullet or savior who will come to save us all from the changes all around us. It is up to us, especially the world’s political leaders and power elite, to make the urgent and necessary change of weaning ourselves off of dirty energy and the global economy derived from it. Not in twenty or thirty years, but NOW.

Greta is absolutely right: Change is coming. The world is waking up, and the changes will continue. The flooding, fires, volcanoes, ice caps melting, and animals going extinct will continue. Those feedback loops are baked in our common cake at this point. Yet, as was so clearly repeated during the past days, weeks, and months, there is still time for us to get onto a less catastrophic trajectory if we make radical, and immediate changes to our mode of living. From the looks of things on YouTube, (millions of views of her speech since Monday, Sept. 23), and all the news stories generated from her speech, it seems she has hit a raw nerve with the collective. If Donald Trump is taking the time to mock her for her speech, it’s clear she is a threat to the global status quo, and that is a very good thing.

The science is solid, but where is global ambition?

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State of the Global Climate report

With all the drama over the Mueller Report and Brexit in the news right now, it isn’t difficult to put aside the work that tens of thousands of dedicated people continue to do towards solving Earth’s climate crisis. And it clearly IS a crisis now.

This week there was a High-level meeting on Climate and Sustainable Development for All, hosted by the UN in New York. Fresh from the two-day long meeting, Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, Maria Fernanda Espinoza, President of the current UN General Assembly, and WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas held a briefing for the media. Taalas gave a presentation of the latest report on Climate for 2018, followed by statements by Fernanda Espinosa and Gutteres. (https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035681)

Ms. Fernanda Espinosa urged everyone listening towards action. She stated,

“We need to connect political times to the times of Nature. We need to act, and to act now. The numbers and data are extremely worrisome…We are capable, we have the science, we have the knowledge, we have the tools in hand to push back on global warming,”

Secretary-General Guterres was equally emphatic in his statement to the press. Concerning the upcoming Global Climate Summit to be held in New York in September, he said,

“It is important that we tackle climate change with much greater ambition. I’m telling leaders, Don’t come with a speech, come with a plan.”

“New technologies are already delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil fuel-driven economy. Solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new power in virtually all measured economies. This means ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and high-emitting, unsustainable agriculture, and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices.”

Of course, none of the stern warnings and emphatic urgings of these high-level diplomats and scientists are new to anyone who seriously cares about the state of our planet. We have been hearing similar warnings and dire reports of climate warming and its effects for the better part of the past decade. It’s feeling more and more like the boiling frog cartoon, made infamous by Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth film in 2006—where the frog is sitting in a bathtub that’s slowly filling with boiling water, as it is boiling to death without really noticing. Except that some of us are finally noticing.

The signs of collapse are everywhere, all around us now.  Yet we continue to sit in the boiling tub, apparently unaware that all we need do is to GET OUT OF THE TUB and turn off the hot water!!   Humans are a strange bunch. One look at the stories abounding in the New York Times or The Guardian, especially in the Culture and Arts sections, show where people’s minds, hearts and souls are focused in these times. And it’s not pretty. People are telling stories and creating theatre, music and art exhibits about seriously frightening, dark, and horrific stuff. The stuff of one’s worst nightmares. And people are paying good money to view, listen to, or otherwise experience them. This is happening in major urban centers throughout the planet, if the artists have the freedom to express what’s inside them without censorship, which is another matter for another blog post.

Living in the world at this point in human history is, in a word, exhausting. The sheer amount and degree of human suffering across our globe is truly beyond comprehension. From the largest, sweeping issues, such as those the UN leaders are working so diligently to somehow manage, to the smallest events that an individual experiences in the course of a day on Earth, there is anguish everywhere.

And yet, the chaos and intense suffering is not the whole story. Simultaneously, there are also incredible moments of courage, daring, skill, intelligence, astounding beauty and grace occurring all across the world. The best of times, the worst of times, to borrow from Dickens.  We’ve got to hold onto HOPE. Moments of grace are such a blessing in the middle of all the sorrow. Here’s a song by Michael Franti and his band, that pretty much sums it all up for me right about now. I offer it as a small balm for those of you who feel similarly.

Their Excellencies

This week I am glued to my smart phone, watching the United Nations’ 73rd General Assembly meetings each day. There is a lot going on globally, to say the least.

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President of the 73rd General Assembly Debate

It’s fascinating to watch and listen to each head of state stand at the podium and tell the rest of the assembly about their country, their perspective on world events, and make their plea to the United Nations for whatever is of the utmost importance to their people and culture. It is clearly apparent after only a short time of viewing, that the people in the hall are doing some of the most important work in the world, for they are together creating humanity’s future.

This year’s high-level meeting is unusual in that the United Nations lost the support of the United States, due to the current presidential administration’s political stance. For complicated reasons, the current administration has withdrawn support, including financial, for a majority of UN programs. Speaker after speaker has spoken of the “alarming trend towards unilateralism” and an unwillingness to work collaboratively, pointing towards the United States’ position.

It is alarming, to put it mildly, that the president of the United States came to the UN’s highest level meeting this year, and stated that, according to him, the United States isn’t interested in the rest of the world, that it’s all about him and his agenda for what he thinks is in the best interests of patriotism. Truthfully, I had to turn off his speech after not even thirty seconds of listening, the stuff coming out of his mouth once again souring my stomach to the point of nausea.

But here’s the glorious thing: The United Nations is a GLOBAL platform that offers all member states the great opportunity to be heard by the rest of the world’s members during these meetings. Each autumn, for one week, heads of state, diplomats, and thousands of support team members come together to appeal to one another, engage in dialogue, and work to hammer out a path forward for the year ahead. The challenges are massive. As I listened, I heard the whole gamut of humanity’s problems, from the smallest island states who are concerned about the oceans and fishing (as it is their main livelihood and resource), to the biggest and most industrialized nations who are concerned with cyber crimes and ecological destruction. Heartbreaking stories were told by the leaders of Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Speeches full of fury and self-determination were given by the heads of the Ukraine and Venezuela. Diplomatic and extremely eloquent speeches were offered by the presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador. Compassionate and passionate appeals were given by several African states. And, some leaders, such as Theresa May of Great Britain, were mostly concerned with free trade and essentially holding on to power and privilege.

Many global leaders showed solidarity with Palestine, and called for legal and permanent recognition of a two-state solution to the fifty-year crisis in Gaza. Leaders appealed for allowing sanctions to be lifted against Cuba, yet again. Dozens of leaders exhibited great compassion towards the millions of refugees and the human migration crises occurring around the world, calling for all members of the United Nations to do more than simply offer rhetoric, and to move into more and greater concrete action.

In this age of fake news and alternative facts, with corporate media showing extremely selective and highly biased news stories to the citizens of the United States, it is really gratifying to be able to hear directly from the world’s leaders about what is happening in their home countries. It is sobering, absolutely, and also exhausting, but exceedingly important for Americans to have the opportunity to watch these important meetings and draw our own conclusions from them.

You can watch live, all this week. http://webtv.un.org/live/

YouTube’s United Nations channel

UN’s website: http://www.un.org/en/ga/73/meetings/index.shtml

Also, see this link: http://sdg.iisd.org/events/73rd-session-of-the-un-general-assembly/