I had the privilege to attend COP26 and from the beginning was thrown from one emotional extreme to another. I wanted to learn, hold space, and connect with others on a journey to a better future. It was impossible to ignore that this event was supposed to be significant for future climate plans and agreements. Yet, in many ways, it ignored the issues of the present. Or rather, many of the actions, attitudes, and dialogues didn’t seem to recognize the severity of climate change or the lived reality so many are facing in frontline communities.
Because of this, I know that I and many others felt a deep frustration. Many of the spaces were ageist and racist, and as a young BIPOC creator and educator, there were many times that I was looked down upon, doubted, and invalidated. Even zooming out to examine the broader outcomes, like strengthening national climate plans by 2022, or reporting emissions more frequently, there’s still no accountability. The main idea was not – “how can we avert a crisis?” Instead it was – “how can we keep civilization going?”
The big divide
Many activists and young people pointed out, there is no future if countries in the Global North continue living the way they do and perpetuating these systems. While so many in the Global South have already had to adapt and continue to have their lives upended, countries in the Global North are nowhere near willing to do the same.
On the other hand, there was a community bursting with energy, many of which felt the same frustrations I did. There were marches and climate strikes that served as a visual representation of these emotions and it reminded me that art and expression are also essential to revolution. Community is essential. Living in those moments showed me that where civilization has already failed people, robust and resilient communities have filled their place. These activists know that there is another way to live, there is a way beyond the civilization we have now. Indigenous knowledge and lived experiences show us about human life before civilization and will continue showing us truths of human life beyond civilization. This was truly what COP26 should have been about.
When people ask me if I have hope, I will always say yes. I don’t have hope in any one individual, country, invention, or policy, but I have hope in collective power. Hope can be beautiful, but the hope I hold within is also ugly. The hope I hold comes from realizing the amount of violence and pain Black, Indigenous, POC have been through in this movement.
COP26 (and the systems that led us to need international climate conferences) might deteriorate our souls and divide us, but we still have a responsibility to those living through climate change now to take every opportunity to heal ourselves and our cultures.