From my apartment window, I can see the lights of the Eiffel Tower sparkle over the blue roofs of Paris. A monument built in a time of wonder—for the 1889 World’s Fair—the Tower remains a testament to the power of human ingenuity and determination.
That power, that spirit, are not infallible. In the last 150 years, human activity and invention have caused global temperatures to rise and threaten millions of lives. The world, it seems, teeters on the edge of crisis, as climate change leads to more extreme weather events, food insecurity, and rising seas that all put millions of people at risk.
But today, a groundswell has risen to combat the mistakes of the past. At the COP 21 climate change conference, diplomats, innovators, activists, and more have all come together to forge an agreement and take major steps forward to accelerate action on climate change.
Today, the Eiffel Tower stands to introduce a new era for humanity: one of solidarity and determination to do right by the world and all its people. It overlooks a revival of the human spirit. In my two weeks attending the conference and observing events around Paris, I have seen that spirit come to life. I have seen determination and solidarity from people in all walks of life, and it has given me hope.
I squeezed in beside her. “Hi, I'm Isso, from Vanuatu.” Boisterous and clearly in his element, Isso shook my hand and offered me a small cup of what looked like juice.
“It's kava,” Meghan explained. “Drink it, clap, and toss the cup back into the circle. It'll make you kinda calm and numb though.” I looked at it a little suspiciously.
“Drink!” laughed Isso.
Sitting in a circle with the Pacific Climate Warriors and drinking kava, however, I felt not hopelessness but strength and resilience. Isso and his friends were only a few of the many islanders that have traveled to Paris to raise their voices. I've talked to many of them, and heard the same message from each: our people are in danger, but we refuse to go quietly.
This last would come up often around the conference center and in the news: should the agreement reflect a goal of limiting temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, or 1.5? That a 0.5-degree difference could spark such heated debate seems silly, but here in Paris, it represents the difference between safety and endangerment for millions of people and the global economy.
In the chaos of the conference center, with negotiators working tirelessly to agree on words and phrases that could determine the fate of millions, this circle of youth was one of momentary bliss—the eye of the storm. In our corner of the building, next to the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion that was holding its South Pacific Day, I felt a glimmer of joy: a glimpse of the future we were all, from our far corners of the Earth, working to build.
“Country road, take me home, to the place I belong. West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home.”
Both arguments, I believe, are right. Although more work has to be done to ensure we can actually meet the 1.5 degree goal, the show of support by developed countries for the needs of the most vulnerable nations shows a revival of the cooperative spirit that we need to challenge the status quo of inaction.
The negotiations are scheduled to end Saturday—one day after the original deadline—and an agreement (barring disaster) is expected to be passed. Some will call the outcome a success; others will call it a failure. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that people leave Paris determined to continue fighting, determined to revive the human spirit to solve this problem, and determined to work together across borders in a level of cooperation never before seen, but dearly needed.
“We are here to share our culture,” he explained. “We want people to join us so we can solve this together.”
Later that afternoon, President Anote Tong of Kiribati came to the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion to speak. Afterwards, he gathered with the Pacific Climate Warriors and members of the Kiribati delegation for pictures.
We are not drowning. We are rising.