It’s Thursday already and my time at COP21 has been flying by, what a rollercoaster!
Something I am consistently hearing is that although international agreements are powerful and important, a large part of climate mitigations have to happen at the local level. That is, if we can hope to keep warming under 1.5 degrees celcius. The 1.5 degree benchmark has been set as the limit of warming in order to protect vulnerable countries from the worst effects of climate change. It’s about me and you making changes in our own lives, in our communities, and in our cities.
I think that most of us are aware of what will happen if we don’t take action on climate change. Severe storms, sea level rise, ocean acidification, food insecurity, extinction of beautiful and ecologically important species … do I still have your attention? Well I’m about ready to cry!
I often see climate change advocacy as focusing on the ‘doom and gloom’ of climate change, and these facts can leave you feeling heartbroken and helpless.
It’s important to know the facts, but one thing we do know is that fear and guilt are not effective tactics to motivate most people about environmental issues . Using scare tactics to educate people about climate change is more likely to make them want to turn a blind eye, than to take action.
To motivate people for action you need energy, you need enthusiasm, and most of all – dare I say- a little bit of fun?
You’re thinking – you’re crazy, climate change isn’t fun – it’s awful! But working on solutions can be exhilarating!
On my first morning at COP21 I attended the YOUGO meeting, which is the youth group constituency of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). This group of youth from around the world meet at 7:50am EVERY MORNING to launch into planning actions and organizing working groups.
Now I know what you’re thinking, waking up at 6am may not be your idea of fun. Yet this group of positive people welcomed me with a hug as I walked in on my first day at COP. I was impressed by the passion and the knowledge of these motivated youth. They are working hard to influence negotiations through methods such as organizing “actions” (non-violent demonstrations) to raise awareness about the contentious issues in the negotiations such as the inclusion of human rights in the text.
This past Monday I attended the Earth to Paris event. The intention of Earth to Paris was to bring climate change awareness to a greater audience, in part by using tactics such as catching people’s attention with celebrities like Jack Black. Bianca Salive and I got in with media passes, so we sat in the back along with the reporters around us and got to work on twitter and snapchat! (Check us out! @envwaterloo on twitter and envwaterloo on snapchat) The vibe was fun, hopeful, and solutions based.
During the event we learned about climate change awareness through the popular game Angry Birds. Do you know that there are people in more countries playing Angry Birds than countries officially recognized by the UN? Well, they released a climate change awareness version of angry birds, including worldwide celebrities in angry bird form. Does an angry Mat Daemon bird grab your attention? Check out the video.
This climate change inspired game was a big success, and boosted usage. Not only that, it got climate change on the radar of kids and people around the globe.
When people have climate change on their mind, they are more likely to push their leaders to make more sustainable decisions. If the population isn’t aware and behind them, leaders can’t be expected to be making change.
Now yes, I’m not saying Angry Birds itself is the solution to climate change. However, to spread the word and to motivate action we should drop the fear tactics and give climate change a rebranding. In my opinion, excitement and fun is the best way to get people inspired.
So far, the experience of Paris has been just that. The climate of COP21 has been buzzing with youth that are excited about making a difference. You can feel the energy in the air, and it’s inspiring. This alone gives me new hope. Regardless of our satisfaction with the final agreement, let’s keep the good vibes going and bring the action home!
This piece was written by Michelle Gordon
Michelle is a third year undergraduate student in the Environment and Resource Studies co-op program. Michelle, as part of the UW COP21 delegation, is particularly interested in the areas of climate change and parks/restoration as well as environmental education.
 Miller, J. R. (2005). Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience. TRENDS in ecology and evolution, 20(8).