We the People of the World Unite and We are Here to Stay
by Lauren Maunus
The United States Government does not represent me. I am a passionate climate activist fighting for justice both in the US and around the world. I acknowledge the role that developed countries have played, and continue to play, in creating and exacerbating the climate crisis and firmly believe we, as residents of a developed country, have a moral obligation to both reduce our environmental impact and to support developing countries as reparations for our global damage. As a participant at the 23rd United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany this November, I remained firm in this position.
As I was planning my schedule for Monday, 11/13, I learned about the one official US side event at the Conference and was deeply angered and frightened. The event, titled, “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation,” espoused the importance of fossil fuels for economic and social progress both in the US and abroad. The panelists included Trump’s special assistant on international energy issues, Pence’s advisor for energy and environment, an executive from a nuclear company, and two executives from fossil fuel companies. Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that increased emissions from fossil fuels are directly responsible for intensified climate change, as well as recent extreme weather events in the US such as Hurricanes Irma and Harvey and rampant wildfires in California, the US chose to ignore the truth, rejecting to acknowledge its responsibility in the global climate problem.
I faced a difficult internal dilemma. I was compelled to hear the lies so that I could be better equipped to defend the truth, but simultaneously did not want to convey any allegiance to these speakers and had no desire to contribute to a tally of “interested” audience members. I knew collective action was needed to voice opposition, so when I was reached out to by US activists who were trying to mobilize people, I joined without hesitation. As the US People’s Delegation, we planned both a walk out of the event as well as a subsequent side event titled, “The US People’s Panel,” that amplified the voices of people who are most impacted by climate change in the US and provided a space for them to share their personal experiences.
During my two and a half hour wait in line to enter the event, I witnessed UN personnel giving preference to US climate denying elites from politically-influential think tanks and corporations. The room where the event was held had a maximum capacity of 250 people, and nearly a third of the people allowed in were with the media or affiliated with the panelists. After finally entering the room, I was surrounded by 150 people who showed up as part of the organized action. I felt anxious and energized. After exactly twenty minutes of government officials denying the US’ role in climate change and corporate executives claiming to represent the people of the US, 150 people stood up, placed their right hands on their hearts, and started singing in unison to the tune of “God Bless the U.S.A.”
“So you claim to be an American?
But we see right through your greed.
It’s killing all across the world
For that coal money
And we proudly stand up until you
Keep it in the ground
We The People of the world unite
And we are here to stay.”
We sang, held hands, and danced for ten minutes, then promptly grabbed our coats and bags and exited the room, leaving about a mere 35 people in attendance. Media followed us out into the main hall of the Conference pavilion, where we transitioned directly into the People’s Panel. Youth from the Navajo Nation, Puerto Rico, and New Orleans shared their experiences facing environmental disasters such as water and soil pollution from uranium mining on Navajo land in Utah, lack of electricity in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and displacement after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Although I felt betrayed by my country during my time at the UN Conference on Climate Change, I felt an immense amount of solidarity with other Americans who felt morally responsible to stand for the truth. Although I remain disillusioned by the fact that my government is enacting policies that are actively harming people and the planet, I returned home with an even deeper sense of purpose to fight for environmental justice. I walked out of the one official event hosted by my country to show that the United States Government does not represent me.
Watch video (Associated Press)