A return to the grassroots

Looking ahead from COP22

Activists, negotiators, indigenous leaders and students gather at sunset at COP22.
Remy Franklin

Marrakesh, Morocco — From across the ocean, I’m imagining the sun still rises and sets on the Front Range, that daily life goes on after the election. As we come to the end of COP22, the U.N. Climate Talks in Marrakesh, Morocco, I prepare to return home at a significant moment in our nation’s history. As we hurtle ever-faster toward the brink of climate disaster, a climate-change denier is packing his bags for the White House. My main report back from COP22 is both sobering and hopeful: At this moment, global policy cannot save us. COP22 has shattered any remaining hopes that the global political class can address climate justice goals — it is us, at the grassroots, that must keep fossil fuels in the ground and build life-sustaining systems and solutions.

My time at COP22 has been a whirlwind of meetings, thousands of emails, new connections and late-night strategy conversations. COP22 consists of both a formal negotiating space and a movement space where activists from around the world gather. Beneath the fast pace is a persistent, unanswered question bubbling up amongst U.S. youth and movement leaders — how can we win climate justice campaigns and realize the stated goals of the Paris Agreement in the coming years? The task is daunting. We have been scrambling since the election. The chaos here is palpable, and no one actually knows what will happen next. And yet, as an organizer, I say bring it on.

We can use uncertainty to our advantage. As COP22 draws to a close, we as a youth movement see that the time for incrementalism is over. Trump’s win and intention to retreat from international climate treaties pulls the veil off of a climate negotiations process that was never the solution in the first place. The Paris Agreement provides a useful framework and set of diplomatic measures for keeping world leaders engaged on climate. Nothing more, nothing less. The agreement never went far enough to ensure that we don’t cross critical tipping points, and the agreement never did enough to support adaptation, loss and damage for the most vulnerable.

This week, the international climate advocacy community continues to hold its breath for an upcoming Trump announcement about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Yet, our movements must keep breathing, for our message is now clearer than ever: Anyone who cares about climate change and social justice must rise up and build a massive, powerful social movement. The time for engagement with the process is ending. Large NGOs, universities and donors must direct resources into resistance efforts and the creation of alternatives outside of formal government channels. We need a massive wave of creative non-violent direct action to physically keep fossil fuels in the ground. Organizations who have not considered it before must now consider civil disobedience and mass mobilization techniques. Such tactics have a proven track record of shifting power dynamics and winning concrete goals, such as the rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline under Obama.

While we resist, we must create. Solutions such as community-owned renewable energy and localizing food production can engage millions across the country in significantly reducing emissions. Through permaculture regenerative land-use practices, we can draw down atmospheric carbon back into the soil. Community policing initiatives, reclamation of public space for community gatherings, restorative justice programs, and safe houses and sanctuary cities can provide safety and support for those most at risk under a Trump administration. Giving energy to solutions enlivens our organizing and keeps us focused on the vision we want for the world. This will be critical in the months and years ahead.

So yes, the world goes on. Any “results” from the corporate-sponsored COP22 won’t bring about any of the deep systems change we need. Instead, we must build critical mass, by welcoming our friends and family members who have been shaken awake by the election of Trump. We must be creative and visionary, utilizing a diversity of tactics including civil disobedience. As I return from COP22, I am neither hopeful nor hopeless. I feel more ready than ever to organize, to create and to reimagine what it means to be alive on a warming planet. While full of injustices, our world is ready for healing and systemic change. I invite you to join us.

Daniel Jubelirer is a COP22 Youth Delegate with SustainUS and a student at Naropa University studying Peace Studies. He works at the intersection of resistance and creation in social change movements and also collaborates locally with Earth Guardians.

This analysis does not necessarily represent the views of Boulder Weekly.