I’m a woman, not a mythical creature.

That’s what it feels like, though. You hear stories of mythical creatures, but you never see them. The same phenomena can be seen with female-bodied party delegates.

People keep asking me “why are you even talking about gender at a climate change conference?” Well. Where do I even begin?

For background LISTEN to my interview with the lovely Angela Wiley which sums it up. 

Women are differently and more negatively impacted in every community by climate change and yet they are an extreme minority within the voices at the COP. To get what I mean, check out this WEDO report on women’s participation within the UNFCCC from 2008-2012.

While the “Doha Miracle”, Decision 23/CP.18 was a great step forward, there is still much to do. This week, the SBI reviewed and fleshed out this text, but did not come to an agreement. This, of course, was because of the United States. USA USA USA. It’s not exactly my favorite thing when my country’s national environmental council to the President’s chair says that gender is a priority so they put $5million into research with an index, but she does not acknowledge that they are part of the reason why gender equality is struggling in the COP.

Today was Gender Day in the COP. This means that an extraordinary amount of time, effort, and resources were put into having panels, sessions, luncheons, and special outside events about gender (well… women….). This also means that I spent a great chunk of my day worrying about getting my research done (AH!).

While I enjoy the idea of a gender day, I’m not very content with the messaging behind it. The work tends to be tokenizing and does not address system change and rather just cites statistics and tells the same stories. From what I’ve observed of the work done from the civil society side, white women often draft statements and then ask women of color to read them in plenaries. This means that women’s real experiences and voice is silenced for the narratives favored by the already dominant discourse.

My day started by attending the launch breakfast for the EGI. One of the first statements was “what better place to launch than Warsaw- whose symbol is the mermaid”. I’m not sure if I necessarily agree with that statement at all. To understand why, read my post about the legend of the mermaid.

And later that day an entire session was led on the subject of “what are your dreams” about gender equality where a song was sung not once, but twice. I appreciate whimsy in most aspects of my life, but in this case, I felt disenchanted in a sense. The UNFCCC Climate Negotiations are by no means a Disney movie. I can’t sing a little song to fill the green climate fund or defeat the Australian troll to allow advancements. Hell- there’s no prince here to save me, I’m being followed by a Stern looking villain who advocates for “responsible private investment”.

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Well, while we’re talking about dreams: I wish that gender day didn’t feel like a necessity. I don’t think that there should have to be a gender day with gimmicks and extra flair for people to care about the fact that women are not treated the same as men are in decision making bodies. I want respect and I want for this inequality to be addressed without people thinking that it’s not worth my time to care about. I want climate justice and what is climate justice without talking about gender differentiated impacts?

I’ve had many people in past few days asking why I would focus on gender (insinuating that because I’m working on gender issues at the COP in addition to following policy that I’m not doing something worthwhile). To me: it’s because I feel like there are so many amazing people working on other issues that I also support, that I need to highlight this very fundamental problem. I feel like if the culture of the negotiations can’t even be changed, how can we expect this body to take into account the interests of those most impacted by climate change  (*cough* women are included in that *cough*)?

Even now, the work being done within the UNFCCC looking at gender calls for the delegations to bring in more female delegates, but does not give the necessary tools to work with different cultures to increase the amount of women in domestic decision making roles. What will it take beyond policy text to have more gender equality within the UNFCCC? Is gender mainstreaming valid? What are the barriers keeping women from being involved (social, economic, cultural, personal)?

While I don’t think that numbers are necessarily an indicator of growing equality, I think that if we have to start somewhere that having more female and gender non-conforming(a concept too difficult for the UN to grapple) voices within the UNFCCC is a good start.

Fun fact: the same room, the same chairs, the same time: no women. All male discussion about what should be considered climate smart finance. If this isn’t an example enough of why gender is important at the COP, I don’t know what else to say.

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Warsaw Legend 2: The Mermaid

I first became curious about the imagery of a mermaid when we were handed little mermaid keychains that had different “sustainable” lifestyle icons on them at the exhibition.

According to local folklore, a mermaid found her way to Warsaw after being tired of swimming in the sea. She decided to rest on the banks of Old Town and enjoyed the area so decided to stay. She swam around the river releasing fish from the nets of the local fishermen. Initially, the men wanted to capture the thief stealing their goods, but once they heard her sing they instantly fell in love and let her be.

Soon after, she was captured by a rich fishermen who held her captive in a wooden hut. After being stuck for a while, a younger fisherman went to rescue her and ever since then she has remained to protect the people of Warsaw. ‘

Another version: she fell in love with a Griffin and came to town. The first one makes more sense to me… but it still doesn’t make sense….

A statue of a mermaid can still be found in the main square of Old Town in Warsaw, where she can be seen bearing a shield and sword to protect the town.

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What I don’t understand is why she would stay. It seems that she left her life protecting other creatures for a life of comfort and protecting those who had once harmed her. What could be the motivation behind this? Any allegories for the Climate Change negotiations? I think yes.

Proud to be an American?

I really struggle with this, I’ve found, when I’m abroad. There are normally three reactions from people when I tell them that I’m from the United States 1) they get really excited 2) they get mad at me for everything that the U.S. has done 3) they stop talking to me.

A few days ago, I experienced number 2 while I was getting breakfast in my hostel. I entered our kitchen to hear a man pushing my fellow delegate about why we were here working on climate change issues. He was arguing that climate change is in the past and that we should be focusing on current issues (his example was “people in Africa don’t have water!” to which I responded, “yes, and increasingly more people don’t because of climate change). As we kept talking a bit, we realized it was not so much that he was against us working on climate change, it was more that he was upset about what the U.S. government is doing to his home country  and he wants us to make them accountable for it. According to this fellow hostel dweller, the U.S. is sending the chemical weapons from Syria to Albania to be “destroyed”. What bothers him is a) he’s from Albania b) according to our fellow hostel-er they don’t actually have the facilities to process the weapons- they will just be buried in the area where people whom Albania cares the least about live.

This conversation quickly shifted from us being on the defensive about why we were there to work on climate change to listening to our new acquaintance air his grievances. It’s true that my country continues to dominate other countries. It’s true that my country continues to push burdens that they don’t want onto other, less noticeable countries . It’s true that my country is not taking a firm stand with climate change and continues to block progress in negotiations. What do I have to be proud of?

The export of this?

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What about hegemony? 
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It pains me sometimes to, what it feels like, confess that I’m from the United States. What I’m proud of is that myself and my fellow delegates recognize that we do not come from a perfect country. The United States is not a perfect model- and we want to change that.

I may not be proud of all the my country has done, but I am definitely proud of the individuals that I know. I know so many wonderful and innovative people who care deeply about one another and the work that they’re doing. I’m proud of where I come from and the people I know.

This is an internal struggle that has been a part of me before COP and has since been exasperated. Other traveling folks from the United States, how do you (if you do) experience this?

The Legend of the Golden Duck

IMG_6625Sitting in the original basement of a re-constructed palace from the 1700s in downtown Warsaw which now serves as the Frederic Chopin museum, my new tour  guide friend told me a local legend about prosperity and hardship:

The legend of the golden duck.

As my new friend told it:

There once was a young boy living in Warsaw- the son of a shoemaker- who was very poor. His father wanted to use their last piece of gold, but the boy begged his father to keep it because there was so little gold around where they lived they’d never be able to survive once it was gone. Alas, his father spent it anyway and they were broke. As legend had it, a princess from the nearby castle, Ostrogoski, had been turned into a duck and sat in a pond of gold in the dungeons. The young boy thought that he might be able to support his family if he could just get some gold from the pond, so he ventured to the castle and deep into the dark dungeon.

And there it was- a duck sitting in a pond of gold. So, he explained his situation to the duck and asked for some gold. The duck promised him great riches and immediately handed over a pouch full of gold. But this present came with conditions: the young boy needed to spend every piece of gold that very evening and only on himself. If, and only if, he spent all of the money on himself that night, if he came back to the duck the next day she would double the money she had given him.

What joy! He was able to go everywhere he wanted and to buy all that the his heart desired. The next day, excited with his exploits the day before, he went back to the duck who, as promised, gave him double the amount of gold she’d given him the day before. So, off he went again to spend the riches he had obtained without sharing so that he could continue to prosper. As the day was winding down, the boy encountered a beggar, a soldier who was starving to death. He could not just walk past and let him starve so he ended up giving the beggar his last piece of gold. Out of nowhere, the duck appeared and his purchases vanished. The duck cursed him saying that he would have to live in poverty once more.

After the duck had disappeared, the beggar told the boy that he had triumphed over greed with his generous spirit and could easily live a pure life from hard work. And that’s exactly what the boy did. He became an accomplished shoe maker who became known world wide and never had to worry about putting food on his family’s table again.

The pond, my new friend told me, is two levels below where we sat in the deepest part of the cold, musty basement where nothing can be put on display because of the unsuitable climate for historic objects. There is even a fountain that the citizens of Warsaw built in the courtyard outside of the castle with a gold duck to commemorate this encounter. It’s supposed to be placed just atop where the duck was deep below the ground.

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I couldn’t help but think to myself, as we sat in this space (so open, with vaulted ceilings, and yet… I felt an eerie weight resting on me) that perhaps this story could be an allegory for the business of coal in Poland. Will the Polish people find a new child willing to give up the wealth associated with coal and through hard work start a new, cleaner energy industry in Poland? Like the story with the golden duck, all it takes is hard work and a strong resistance to greed.

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Maybe what we really need to do is find the golden duck while we’re in Warsaw and we could put those gold coins into the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

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Texas to Poland: Coal & Pipelines. Culture Shock? Not Really.

After a delegation meeting, one of the delegates asked “Did you hear about the pipeline explosion today?” I immediately answered, “YEAH! The one in Texas?! Again!?” “No… here in Poland…” they replied in a tone that I can only describe as reserved surprise.

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Before I go on my rant: SIGN THIS PETITION!!!! I met a wonderful Polish woman named Diana who is working hard to keep an unnecessary proposed coal plant from being built. The man who owns the proposed coal plant is also the chairman of Green Cross International’s BOD and is a member of the Climate Change Task force. What the hell, right?

This whole trip I’ve felt these odd connections between Poland and Texas. Not only is coal a big problem here in Poland, but back home in Texas. Texas is home to two of the five dirtiest power plants (note: this list is not just limited to coal) in the United States: Luminant in Martin Lake and NRG is W.A. Parish- both coal-fired power plants. Poland is home to the Belchatow coal-fired power plant in Lodz which spews 35 million tons of CO2 annually.

Today, I felt even more like Texas and Poland aren’t so different from one another.

Today, both countries had natural gas pipelines explode. In Texas, Natural gas is being touted as an alternative to coal- same as in Poland. This is a big problem. Natural gas is by no means a clean transition source of energy over coal. While natural gas does not release as much carbon when burned, it releases more methane, which is “more efficient” at keeping greenhouses gases in our atmosphere. Not only is the expansion of natural gas extraction accelerating climate change, it’s creating accidents like these where pipelines explode. Is this really the future we want? Earthquakes where there have never been earthquakes before. People’s homes being ruined by exploding pipelines. New cases of cancer popping up near fracking well pads. Does this sound like a “Clean Energy” future? I think you know the answer to that question (“NO”, duh!).

Sitting in Poland thinking of Texas, I can only hope that both of our states are able to figure out what is important: the long-term health of our communities, not short term economic profit.

The only real difference I can think of between Poland and Texas: Temperature (it’s freeeeezing in Poland)

New Experiences: International Anti-Oppression

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To be completely transparent: I’ve been writing, re-writing this post since I led the workshop last Friday. I find Anti-oppression to be difficult to write about and agonize over every single word trying to make it the best possible. I’ve decided it’s just time for me to be human- I can’t be prefect, so I hope that y’all understand that I did my best and I hope my desire for solidarity, justice, and understanding comes through in this post. 

After attending COP18 in Doha last year, I was left feeling like I hadn’t properly shared one of my passions, Anti-Oppression (AO) work, with the other youth that I interacted. The reason why I am so inspired to work utilizing AO is that I believe that in order to make any sort of change we must all have the ability to be heard, to act, and to make the differences that we are called to. Climate change is a particularly large problem. It interacts with every part of our lives and, as such, means that we must remember that everyone is affected by climate change, but some more so than others. In this workshop, we discussed the role that privilege and oppression take within the environmental work that we do at home and then further discussed how these concepts are seen at the COP. Even though we had youth from nine different countries, we agreed that there were vast inequalities in terms of resource distribution between countries, the sharing of leadership roles by men and women, minority groups’ communities being used as grounds for energy extraction and production sites, and also the dynamics that come into play when we consider who is able to participate in this process.

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By exploring these two concepts, we started a dialogue about how to make the International Youth Climate Movement (IYCM) a more inclusive and thoughtful group of activists. I really wanted to emphasize that tokenization (a common and unfortunate trend in environmental work) of others should be avoided at all costs not only in our media work, but in our personal interactions. In addition, I felt it important to discuss how by saying “if only more people from the global south were here” and “why don’t more people speak up” is a tokenizing experience in itself. In order to have the strongest, most justice-oriented movement as possible we must first change the systems of oppression within our structures and create more open spaces for more voices and experiences to be heard. Why would those whose voices are only asked for when people need a spokesperson for one’s identity (or assumed identity) and not accepted as a necessary participant in all conversations?

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This was the point of the training: to open a dialogue about privilege and power dynamics and to emphasize that we should not wonder why people are not in spaces, but actively work to change the way people with more privilege take up space. Seeing that impacted communities are regularly tokenized, our workshop was to explain a) what tokenizing is b) how people can recognize and check their own privilege and c) discuss simple ways to make space.

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One individual rightly asked why our workshop was targeted towards folks from Western countries and whose primary language (or are comfortable using) English and did not have marginalized peoples in the space to direct the conversation and say what their needs are. I personally think that it is not the job of a person facing discrimination or oppression to constantly give answers or lead these conversations. Why should someone be constantly confronting the various levels of oppression in their life and having every conversation revolve around it? Another fear- when talking about these systems, isn’t it helpful to remove those with privilege from the opportunity to tokenize someone by asking them for their opinion as a spokesperson for their identity or to attempt being validated as not being [insert word here]-ist?

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These are my own opinions, experiences, and approach. I realize that there are many other valid ways of going about anti-oppression within and outside of the U.S. . If anyone has experience with AO at an International level and has an ideas or would like to collaborate, please let me know. (sidenote: Power Shift CEE/COY 9 was primarily composed of people from the “Global North” is this contextualizes the conversation about tokenization)

We ended with this quote: “The question is not just about what unearned privileges we have been walking around with but also about what it would take to change the systems that gave us these privileges in the first place. We must move beyond acknowledgement and guilt, panels and conferences, and start living, working, organizing, consuming, and loving differently.”

I firmly believe that it’s important for us to create an equitable, just, and powerful climate change movement. We need to take all of our experiences and knowledge to inform the changes that we’re making to get the best results. So the intention of the workshop was to open a discussion to discover how we can actively amplify the needs of those most impacted by being good allies that give space for others to speak and act, rather than us doing it in their place.

To see the handout from this workshop click here.

Workshop photos by the wonderful David Tong (thanks!) 

Coaland Doesn’t Represent the Polish People

Poland is a country known for it’s coal. But what people don’t talk much about is that not all of the people in Poland are supportive of these energy projects. It was discussed at the Conference of Youth/ Central and Eastern European Power Shift that a common misconception is that all Polish people are wary of having coal-fired power plants shut down because it is a large source of economic stability for the country. However, according to two residents of Poland that I’ve spoken with, the problem is not so much that people do not want to change, rather the conceptualization of what change looks like is more difficult to understand.

On Monday evening, Polish Independence day, the COP had their opening reception at the University of Warsaw’s Library (Biblioteka Uniwersytecka w Warszawie). As in the tradition of over the top UN gatherings, the entire library was being lit by an eerie green light, servers were walking around with glasses of wine and juices, and ours d’ouevres were being offered by the tray fill. Sponsored mainly by LOTOS, a Polish fossil fuel company, there was a sense of sad irony and corporate capture among many of the youth that I spoke to. Why is the COP accepting money from the very industry that is fueling (pun intended) the problem?

COP19 Reception Entertainment
COP19 Reception Entertainment
COP Co-opted
COP Co-opted

I had the pleasure of meeting a young Polish energy engineering student at the event who was very inquisitive about the COP process who I will call L. in this post. L. told me that he thought since it seems that the coal industry and the issues covered at the COP are related that he thought it best to get himself informed. I asked him what energy source he saw himself doing engineering for in the future and he seemed a bit sheepish as he started with the statement “well, you see… there is really only one source of energy in Poland. It is awkward.” We discussed how coal controls the government in Poland (very similar to how oil controls politics in the United States). He informed me that it seems impossible to move away from coal while the individual economic interests of those in power is being supported by coal.

As we delved deeper into our conversation, I asked him what he thought would start a transition from coal to cleaner energy and he said that he didn’t know. I tried to give him examples of times when we’ve successfully shut down coal plants in the U.S. and simultaneously started to transition toward more renewable energy and he didn’t think that it was plausible in Poland. He maintained that there is not enough interest and buy in behind starting to have more renewable energy. Children don’t know, he said, about other forms of energy. There is nothing environmental in Polish education even at the high school level. It’s hard for people to grow up and see an alternative to the current system without knowing what else is out there. In addition, L. told me that something that the people of Poland do not know that they import most of the coal that they burn. For the Polish people, the coal industry is pushed as being a main source of employment, but this is not the case given that their resources come from elsewhere.

What’s worse is that, like many European countries, college is paid for (or in some cases mostly) paid for by the government by a sort of education credit system. My new friend, L., told me that the government gives a certain amount of extra credits for students who wanted to pursue careers in science and technology (also like the states), but with an even greater chance for extra credits and additional scholarship money if they studied engineering (specifically energy), which L. said was “awkward”.

It is awkward, I thought to myself, that coal has such a strong influence over society that  the very people who could be empowered to make a change feel so helpless.

Things need to change in Warsaw, I think. And after Power Shift CEE, I think that the youth of Poland are well on their way to making that change.

Fossil Funded= Fundamentally wrong.
Fossil Funded= Fundamentally wrong.