Katherine Rainone lives and works full time in DC, and is also a Master’s Candidate in Environmental Planning and Management at Johns Hopkins University.
Inspired by the Youth Around Me
I’m sitting here in a hangar of empty booths, on the final day of COP17, reflecting on the past two weeks and what lies ahead. When I left Washington, D.C., USA, for Durban, South Africa, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to get out of this conference. I currently work at a marketing agency that fundraises for environmental non-profits. I have been passionate about environmental issues for as long as I can remember, and I wanted to learn what other organizations were doing to solve climate change, and discuss different ways to do so. What actually happened is quite a different story.
The first YOUNGO meeting of the conference left me with my head muddled, unsure of which working group to be a part of. My heart lies with science… inside I was pulled to join the adaptation group, the water group, or the mitigation group. I peered around, noticing the communications working group looking a bit sparse. In order for the youth climate movement to succeed overall, or any movement for that matter, each individual has to contribute their strongest suit in order to build the strongest following and be the most effective. There was something else I noticed when I panned the room: youth of every color, size and background sitting together, working together. There was a Mexican Girl Guide named Fatima, a Chinese girl named Songqiao, a set of sisters from Sweden, a woman called Catherine with bright pink hair, a man from Cameroon named Divine. It seemed like there was representation from every culture, each continent, all races, genders and sexual preferences.
Every morning, when the microphone went around at the Spokescouncil meeting, there were words of support and encouragement, suggestions for improvement, and energy. I heard no name-calling, bullying, or finger-pointing. When someone needed clarification on a point, or translation into another language, before I could turn around to see who had raised a point, someone nearby had already addressed — heads were nodding and fingers were waving.
Over the past few days, I have been inspired by the actions of my peers calling for climate justice. When youth from all walks of life come together with a shared vision in support of one overall cause, the electricity that sparks is amazing, almost unbelievable. While the last day of COP17 doesn’t look pretty as I watch on the monitors, I have faith in my generation. I’ve heard time and time again here in Durban that we as youth are the ones who are going to make the big changes our climate needs. I worry that by the time we fill our negotiators seats, it may be too late, but with the bridges we are building and the passion I see in everyone’s eyes, a glimmer of hope remains. The negotiators of the UN could take some serious pointers from the youth of the world, from my generation.
I am returning back to the United States tomorrow with a different outlook on the international youth climate movement. The youth constituency has only just become an official one at these negotiations. While I do think it is too late to wait, having our voices heard in a real way will have to be a marathon, not a sprint. We mustn’t give up hope, and we will keep moving forward towards our ultimate goal of climate justice.