I daydreamed back to some of the turning points in my activism, to my first rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during Powershift, an environmental youth activist conference. I flipped through pictures of protests, and rallies and realized that I had chosen climate action because it was a catchall. It was what allowed me to attend everything from anti-oppression trainings to female empowerment workshops. The climate movement may not always promote all human rights, but most of them fall within its scope.
In reading negotiation texts and scientific papers, it is easy to become fixated on the numbers. How much temperature rise will we see? How many parts per million? What percent of our GDP? How much funding? It is easy to boil the problem down to carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. It can seem so defined and clear-cut, we must limit our emissions to a set number.
As I walked through the Climate Generation’s area, I spoke with a man advocating for the closure of a cement plant in his community. He told me he was not here to talk about carbon; he was here to talk about the hundreds of kids struggling to breathe the air in his town. Between all of the events I attended, front line communities touched upon most of the major forms of human rights.
The activists at the Climate Generation’s space make it clear that we are not just looking for a reduction in carbon emissions. If we developed carbon capture and storage technologies tomorrow, and could extract all the excess CO2 from our atmosphere, many communities would still be left hurting. Our fish populations would still be low, our rainforests would still be threatened, and we would still struggle to meet everyone’s basic access to clean air and water.
The stories being told at COP21 are what remind us that we are not just looking for a numerical solution. We need more than carbon reductions; we need a paradigm shift in how we view economies and development. Regardless of the text that is, or is not delivered, we as communities are the ones who will have to carry the social shift necessary for success.