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November 26, 2012

COP18: Why I'm Helping from Home and How You Can Join Me

Climate change was a theoretical, abstract concept for me. But then Hurricane Sandy made landfall.

As a youth environmental activist in the South, my work has been focused on retiring dirty energy sources, namely coal, through efforts such as the Sierra Student Coalition’s Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign. Up until now, when I spoke out about the coal burned on my University’s campus or in my community, I talked about chemical pollutants and individual health effects. I said this was because Southern conservatives don’t resonate with climate change, but I now see a larger truth was that, unfortunately, until it affected me personally, I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of climate change.

Hurricane Sandy literally brought climate change home for me. My extended family is almost exclusively in New York and New Jersey, so my stomach was knotted and anxiety level constant in the days following as I tried to contact loved ones, often without power or cell service. Meanwhile, news cycles kept running: I recognized toppled landmarks, the irreparably destroyed boardwalk where I spent every summer of my childhood, and suffering neighbors. After much uncertainty, all family members were accounted for. I am grateful, but I refuse to allow myself to forget the panic of those days. It made climate action personally tangible and necessary. Climate change causes extreme weather patterns. Hurricane Sandy was an unprecedented event, but we can expect more like it should we simply sit by.

Shortly after cleanup began, my political science professor back in Georgia discussed cost-benefit analysis in class, lamenting that there was no intentional forum for it in climate change. Thankfully he was wrong: The United Nations’ annual Conference of the Parties (COP) is designed to bring countries together to assess progress in dealing with climate change and generate new solutions. This year, COP18 is in Doha, Qatar.

But what if talks stall and no steps forward are taken? Island countries, coastal areas, and communities all over the world have seen the effects of climate change for years– families like mine were suffering long before Hurricane Sandy. The Sierra Student Coalition is sending a youth delegation to monitor and influence policy where it can. But thirteen young people on the ground can only do so much: they need our help from home. Rapid response actions and new media floods get the attention of political leaders and traditional media.

I’ll be helping to lead all this from here in the United States and want you to join me. Sign up for our rapid response team at http://tinyurl.com/COPrapidresponse. Keep up to date with the delegation at Facebook.com/SSCInternational and @Intl_SSC. Continue to read our stories here. Don't wait to demand action like I did for so long– we need you to take part in pushing climate solutions for families everywhere now.

-- Maura Friedman attends the University of Georgia and is working on the COP18 New Media Team.


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