I did not know what to expect when I found out I had a plane ticket to Paris. I felt very excited to travel to the other side of the world to represent Communities for a Better Environment, but more importantly, to echo the voices of my community. Preparing myself for this trip proved difficult. At first, I did not believe that I was the person to talk about climate change. I have always felt like I did not know the terms well enough or the facts confidently enough to speak to others about them. Although I have countless thoughts and much to say when it comes to environmental and social justice, I often face a blur of words that leave me speechless. However, I have come to the conclusion that there is one thing I surely know, one thing that I am an expert on, and that is my story. I know what I am passionate about. I know my experiences. I know how much my community suffers.
Along with several other grassroots organizations like Asian Pacific Environment Network (APEN), Southwest Workers’ Union (SWU), Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC), and People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice (PODER SF), we joined the It Takes Roots to Weather the Storm Delegation. This was an alliance created by Grassroots Global Justice to confront our global leaders who have been promising a new climate agreement through the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in their annual Conference of Parties (COP). We did not come to Paris to face COP21 with delusion- we know the fossil fuel industry has a heavy hand in the decision making process. And while our elected officials talk about climate change and mouth business, low-income communities and communities of color throughout the world are trying to survive the belly of the beast!
When people think about climate justice, they think about the polar bears and penguins, but climate change is not only about the environment. It is also linked to poverty, jobs, housing, access to health care, food security, migration, gender equality, and the list goes on. How is it that there are laws to protect fish from being harmed by waste, but there are little laws to stop facilities like Exide Technologies from dumping toxins like arsenic and lead into thousands of homes in Southeast Los Angeles? The answer to that is simply environmental racism: low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by pollution. Someone I admire dearly once said, “We are not polar bears, we are not whales, or dolphins, or trees. We are not cute little penguins. No one is going to come to save us, we need to fight for ourselves.” The truth could not be any clearer. The fact is that our elected officials are completely disconnected from the communities they represent. The fact is that our negotiators have blinders on. The fact is that they are the puppets and the fossil fuel industry is their marionette.
As one of the media spokespeople for It Takes Roots, it was difficult to tell our stories. There was a small press conference held in Paris before thousands of people started gathering on L’avenue de la Grande Armée for the Red Line Action. Now here I was again, with so much to say, but with much frustration in saying it. Talking in front of all these cameras and people to say what was on my mind was emotionally challenging. It was difficult for me because I was angry. I was angry because at only nineteen years old I should not have to tell our global leaders that there is something deeply wrong with the strategies laid out to push for climate action. I was angry because the only way I was able to see my own governor was through purchasing a ticket to an event thousands of miles away from home that honored Jerry Brown’s so called commitment to climate change (even though he fails to acknowledge the toxicity in places like Southeast Los Angeles). I was angry because those at the frontline- Indigenous Peoples, people of color, womyn- are the red lines, and we have been crossed.
The climate agreement made in Paris could not have been any less than what I expected- a failure. The COP21 Agreement is so deeply embedded in false solutions like Carbon Trading/Carbon Markets, “clean” power plants, the Clean Development Mechanism created under the UN Kyoto Protocol, and REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which threatens communities and Indigenous Peoples. The settlements made in Paris do not actually require action to meet the goals of pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. The decisions made in Paris privatize the air through the scheme “carbon neutrality,” where countries can buy carbon credits and a green pass to pollute. The overall text of the agreement fails to mention human rights or the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We expected this. This is why all delegates with It Takes Roots came together on December 10th to create a direct action where we called out the U.S. and pushed for solidarity.
We need system change not climate change, and that requires us to reject the corporate driven, free trade investment agreements.
Although the Paris Accord was a bust, we left more connected and aligned and fueled than ever before. We must continue to fight for ourselves, because those at the frontline know the solutions. There are alternatives- we need a Just Transition toward renewable energy, cooperative economies, and community power. This movement is strong, and it is my generation that will continue to resist extraction. Every day I am motivated to fight so that one day, the next generation will no longer have to!