Youth Speaks Climate Truth To Power

by Abigail Borah

Three months ago, at the United Nations international climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, I rose up at the back of the room. Fingers trembling, I interrupted Todd Stern, the U.S. negotiator, and read words scrawled on a piece of notebook paper.

“I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot. The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long. I am scared for my future. You must take responsibility to act now, or you will threaten the lives of youth and the world’s most vulnerable.”

As I spoke, the moderator rebuked, “No one is listening to you.”

In many ways, that was the point.

Throughout the negotiations, no one listened to scientific experts, to vulnerable communities, or to young people begging world leaders to protect our future. Constrained by partisan politics, an obstructionist Congress and fossil-fuel interests, the United States continues to perpetuate international gridlock at climate negotiations.

But as policy forms at a snail’s pace, a global movement is building.

Beyond the United Nations, outside the chambers of Congress, young people from across the world are coloring outside the lines of what is deemed politically feasible.

We want not only to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but also to empower communities on the frontlines of climate change, and to re-power our own communities toward a just and sustainable tomorrow. We want to usher in an era of innovation, to promote clean renewable energy, and create a green-jobs economy. We dare to envision a better future.

If politicians aren’t listening to scientists, vulnerable communities, or their constituents, whom are they listening to?

Behind closed doors in Washington, money talks.

Quiet and hidden, Big Oil, Gas and Coal purchase political power ­in exchange for spare change compared to their record profits. In the past two years, the fossil fuel industry has shelled out $347 million on congressional lobbyists and campaign contributions, an investment that gained them over $20 billion in fossil-fuel subsidies. These massive subsidies come straight out of taxpayer pockets and go right into dirty oil, gas and coal’s hands.

American taxpayers are fueling corporate greed, corrupt political influence and environmental degradation at the expense of their own interests. A majority of Americans oppose subsidies on fossil fuels and nuclear energy. More than three in four Americans wants government to invest in domestic wind, solar, and energy-efficiency technology. Politicians are not listening.

Money talks – but we can speak louder.

When I stood up at the United Nations, I knew I had nothing to lose by defending my future, and everything to lose by watching and waiting in silence. I invite you to join me.

I’m so hopeful that we can create a better future that I’m willing to sacrifice to get there.

We need to defend our democracy, which is of, for and by the people – not for corporations. We need to defend the rights of the young and of future generations to a safe and habitable planet, not the rights of corporations to profit, pollute and plunder.
Buying power in Washington costs money – but speaking with our voices and our votes is free.

We need to hold our representatives accountable, to put the safety of citizens ahead of fossil-fuel interests. Truly, if we stand silent, as passive witnesses to injustice, we are as culpable as the leaders we criticize.

I’m learning that even without a microphone, my voice can be heard. Even without a degree, without a seat in Congress, there is power in standing up for what we believe.

I am asking politicians to have the courage to stand up and speak out for a just and sustainable future. I am asking you to join the growing number of people committed to a democratic vision in which our representatives are held accountable to the interests of the people.

We can light a fire under politicians and corporations. Together, we can ignite real change.

Abigail Borah is a 21-year-old junior studying conservation biology at Middlebury College, and a leader in grassroots environmental campaigns and the international youth climate movement. © 2012.


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