Good evening to all of you. If you waiting for a green freak to walk out, I hope I did not disappoint you. I try to be one as best as I can 🙂
Have you ever wondered how it would feel for you to hear that your house is drowning? Have you ever thought what you would be forced to do if the sea around us started rising, and we were stuck in an island with nowhere to go, and the only thing we could do were just watch the water as it kept rising? What will you do? What will you hold onto?
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the water that kept gushing out of those taps that we most of the time forget to close after filling out bottles, or of course stomachs when thirsty, had no water coming out of them? have you ever wondered how it would be if the only water available was the water in bottled form? What if you were to suffer of thirst just because you could not afford a bottle of water?
These are just possibilities that we talk of, (at least for us), but around the world there are those who suffer due to these hypothetical situations.
The realisation hit me only in 2009 that the impact on people’s life is greater than we feel it in our day to day events. I was at the 15TH Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC, chilling out, when one of my friends from Maldives walked in crying. If you recall the summit held in Copenhagen it was one with a huge crowd and my friend always gets confused for a 15 year old. So for a moment I thought someone might have done something to scare her, or tried to kidnap her or something. Yes call me stupid, I come up with weird assumptions which turn out to be true at times. So I ask her for the cause of her distress, and she goes “our countries is not in the globe” I was like “eer”
For a moment I was confused. Thought she was talking out of trauma or something. To realise a few seconds later that she was referring to this huge globe that they had placed within the conference premises and people use to pass on a daily basis.
She was crying because Maldives was missing in that globe. For a moment I thought it was hilarious. I mean what’s the big deal right? It would have been a small dot somewhere in that globe, may be they just forgot to put it up there. Who cares?! But then it struck me only at that moment that it was not a thing I could respond to with a “who cares!”
For me, it was something that might seem funny. Sure, the dot it missing in the globe, but Sri Lanka is still on the globe! I mean “ the” globe.
But for those who are facing peril, on a daily basis, it is not a joke. For them it was a matter of personal attachment. Their country is drowning, and will eventually be NOT on that globe, if some substantial measures were to be taken. And the little dot that was missing on that globe, well it did mean something more than a dot to them.
So my friend Shehan, who was wiser than I, took a marker, went and put the dot on that globe, where Aisha pointed out her country should be. And that made her happy. But the question is, can we solve the real problem, the problems of all who suffer of similar plight, not their country being missed on a globe placed within a hall full of conference participants, but suffering of real threat to lose their homes, by just merely putting a dot on a globe. I would have loved to have told that it was a task easy as that. But as you and I both know it is not.
As stupid as that story might seem to some of you seated in this room, may be you think it’s one of those stories one could put up as examples of dramatic effect. But it got me thinking. It was my first summit, I was clueless what was happening around me, and people were running all over, going to plenary discussions, following negotiations, and freezing in the cold winter of Copenhagen. Between the screams of protestors on whom dogs were unleashed, and vigils at 2 am in the morning while police cars petrolled around the city trying to stop any unrest that might pop up, and the endless blaming of the negotiators, it occurred to me that youth have a huge role to play in this change of thinking. It dawned on me that youth can actually be the solution if mobilised in the correct way.
So how can this be achieved? How can youth be the solution to the problems that surround us on climate change?
It is common knowledge that youth are those who lead the way in a revolution. If big change is to come, then youth cannot be missing there. Ok let’s see some of those photographs behind me. What do they make you think of?
The protests by the university students in the country? If they do make you think of such, then may be the point that I am trying to make here might come through. Think of those protests. Think of whether they are efficient or not. If they are in which way? And if they are not, why?
As you would have noticed through the images, there is a lot of demonstrations and actions that are organised by youth across the world. What is the objective? To spread the world. Call for action. The same friend of mine, who went and drew the famous “dot” on the globe, told me a few days back, that he does not feel the energy if there is no walk organised, a demonstration mobilised to spread the world on climate change. I was glad about his enthusiasm. But I asked him, “but don’t you think that finding solutions go beyond just a walk?”
A walk reminds you of what is happening around us. A board held, a chant that is heard will make the others realise that they need to wake up. So yes, demonstrations play a key role in getting those who are deaf to what is happening around them to realise that YES there needs to be something done, “oh yea, climate change is happening”, “ah these floods, yes yes, i see now, climate change” but if that person stops there, it does not create an impact. The message needs to be sustained.
To create a sustainable movement, there needs to be another step. This is where my question on arriving on this stage comes in. The image of a green freak, as people tend to call those who call for action. Well the green freaks are not found as you always find them in movies, holding a banner but you find them in different kinds. What is my point here?
The point is that from demonstrations there needs to be a link to the policy implementation. It does not make any difference if we are just blaming those in power if we are just blaming. Why not youth be those who make suggestions that are worthy of being implemented. How about we approach those negotiators apart from with a banner in hand, which might of course block us from getting anywhere within 100 meters from where the negotiators aer. Why not an approach of moderation, where we criticise while discussing with those adults who have the power to make a change. Surprisingly, at times convincing can go a long way. So one solution that youth can be is in the encouraging of policy decisions. Through voicing out in our energetic ways, as well as reaching out to through reason and logical power.
Above most Article 6 of the convention on climate change speaks of education and creating awareness. In 2010 the Youth NGOs present were able to make huge change in the field of policy in this regard. This highlights that even as youth we have the power to create changes in the policy decisions that are being made.
However in the climate discussions that are pursued as we are here, it has been told that there might be not a binding treaty that will come out of the climate negotiations that will be held at the end of the year. This being the current situation, the importance of grass root action comes up.
If those in power do not have the power to do what needs to be done, why not youth take the initiative? Why not be the leaders of changing the mindset of populations to mitigate the emissions. Why not youth as pioneers for projects that would help ourselves in saving out homes and those around us from the effects of climate change.
How do we do this?
There is no one way. Not because there is NO WAY. Just because it can be done in a million ways. What you need to do is, see climate change in your own perception. What is it that you like doing most? See how you can contribute to solve the situation through your own contribution. If you are a student of law, then look into those legislations. If you are a blogger, a journalist, then think of how you can spread the word. If you are an artist, see how you can spread the message.
In short think of those people who are being made climate refugees, rendered homeless, and suffer of hunger. Think of ourselves who might be in the same plight if we ourselves might not take worthy action.
Think of it in terms of human rights. And you will see that being a solution is not far a away. Start by changing individually and inspire others to change communally.
Because though for us, still stuck in a home where we have no way to run when the sea levels keep rising might be an imagery for some it is a reality.
To close my speech I would like to show a small video that was created by the youth movement who were present in Cancun, Mexico at the UNFCCC conference of parties. “Be the change!”