Other times, the world is big—even expanding. I watch the Google Project Managers zoom in and in and in on a bend in the Amazon River and then fly over to the shrivelling Lake Urmia in Iran. These dynamic maps sweep me away with each change, and I try to fathom the number of places that exist on this planet. I can’t.
There are so many individuals circulating the Climate Generations Area, attending meetings, biking to charge their phones, and introducing themselves to one another. The more people I talk to, the more I understand how little I understand. I also accept that it would take a lifetime to understand someone else’s perspective.
A young man steps onto the bus, and he sits down heavily in the chair facing me. He’s accredited: he wears the blue UNFCCC lanyard and badge. We sit, mirroring one another, arms folded over the backpacks in our laps. The world feels small again.
I ask him if he’s tired; he smiles, and we talk. Eddy introduces himself, and we exchange questions on the RER until we reach Le Gare du Nord.
I learn that he’s the Youth Delegate for the Dominican Republic. Eddy turned 20 today—I’m 20! He’s studying psychology—I’m taking my first psychology class this quarter! But he’s taken the semester off to dedicate himself to this conference, and I flew here for the final week of an incredible class at a privileged university. I’m grateful for the opportunity, but in this context it feels like an extravagant field trip.
Our narratives continue to diverge. Eddy tells me that yesterday, the Dominican Republic was announced the eighth most vulnerable country to climate change. He seems weighted with responsibility. He describes how, among other issues, the ocean regularly floods his country. I realize that I’ve never deliberately been thankful for falling asleep every night, knowing that the water won’t creep to or above my doorstep. The world seems very big.
Eddy admires Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, more than anyone else in the world. He hopes to thank her in person at COP21 for inspiring him and for all her hard work in advocating for the vulnerable. He gives me his business card, and we part.
Back at the hostel, I search the Dominican Republic on Google Maps. I zoom in and in and in on Santo Domingo, the capital. I explore the city and imagine Eddy there. I type in Boston, where I grew up, and notice, as my browser flies to my home, that the journey is almost due North. I compare the coordinates of Santo Domingo and Boston:
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Eddy and I were longitudinal neighbors for eighteen years. We’ve been waking up and falling asleep at the same times. We’ve grown up together, just South or North of one another. On one hand, I feel a sense of camaraderie with Eddy. The difference our latitudes, however, meant that we’ve grown up with drastically disparate senses of environmental stability and responsibility.
The world seemed longitudinally small and latitudinally big.