With Generations vibrant with the world’s thought leaders on climate change, most people here are used to being the leaders, speaker, movers and shakers. They are usually the lead voices in their discipline. So understandably, when you get a bunch of people who are inclined to speak in a space that is built for speaking, there is a lot of speaking into space.
But is anyone listening?
The first was with Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club. After a panel on divestment, a group of Stanford students and I surrounded him in the most aggressively friendly way possible to ask him some questions. Initially, he looked unhappy to be boxed in by another flock of people—his voice was unexcited, his body posture closed.
But after a few questions—and to be clear, these were not softball questions—Michael seemed to transition. Not only did he open up, but after a few minutes, he stopped and asked, “so what do you all think of" Climate Generations? And then he listened.
He didn’t use the question to transition to his message or to a Sierra Club agenda item. He didn’t even speak until asked his thoughts by one of my peers, Caroline. In talking with Michael, it seemed that the feverish pitch of the ADP negotiations and buzzing atmosphere of negotiations were put on hold, if only for a few moments.
The second was with a gentleman, whose name I do not know, who leads a forest resource monitoring organization that unites twelve African nations. He approached me after I asked a question about fishbone patterns in the Ecuadorian Amazon at the Google Earth Engine presentation wanting to know about other resources for remote monitoring of forests. He asked his questions, one by one, and listened to each of my responses before posing the next. It was a wonderfully unexpected surprise, like the conversation with Michael Brune.
While these were both lovely interactions, what does the fact that they are unusual interactions mean for Climate Generations, the supposed forum for formal civil society interactions?
I would argue that for a space intended to be one of knowledge transfer, there is much less actual transfer than is intended. As a space full of people who are leaders in their field and who are engaged enough in the talks to be here, it’s not too unreasonable to assume that most people have an agenda coming in. I’m one of those people. A big reason I’m engaging with most people is because of my project or because of my life passions, very much overlapping.
I end this blog here not because I have a profound answer about speaking and listening, but because even after a week spent in the Climate Generations space, I’m still trying to figure out its role in real change and advocacy during the COP.
(Photo added on December 10, 2015)