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The Two Breaths of Our Earth

Picture of UU-UNO Dec '19 Panel from Left to Right: Dr. Scott Carlin, Long Island University’s LIU Post, H.E.  Dr. Satyendra Prasad, Permanent Representative to Fiji, and Elham Youssefian, International Disability Alliance.

Panel from left to right: Dr. Scott Carlin, Long Island University’s LIU Post, H.E.  Dr. Satyendra Prasad, Permanent Representative to Fiji, and Elham Youssefian, International Disability Alliance

By Sydney Boyer

“Our planet is made up of two breaths. One comes from the oceans and the other comes from the trees. Today, the oceans are under severe stress of being able to provide this to the world.”

These words were part of the remarks delivered by H.E. Dr. Satyendra Prasad, the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations, at “A Climate in Crisis: The Fight for Justice in a Warming World.” The event, which was held on December 5, 2019 at the Salvation Army International headquarters, included a panel discussion on creating climate policies that are inclusive of marginalized and traditionally forgotten groups. It featured a list of speakers who represent communities at the forefront of climate change and who are leaders in the movement for an equitable world. The goal of the event was to inspire direct action by participants to combat climate change. The panel was moderated by Dr. Scott Carlin, of Long Island University’s LIU Post. Panel speakers included:

  • Rick Chavolla, Board of Directors of the American Indian Community House
  • H.E. Dr. Satyendra Prasad, the Permanent Representative to the Mission of Fiji  
  • Daphne Frias, UN Major Group for Youth and Children
  • Elham Youssefian, Inclusive Humanitarian Action and Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor for the International Disability Alliance
  • H.E. Rodrigo Alberto Carazo Zeledón, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations

The speakers touched on many aspects of the current climate crisis, however they all agreed on two main points. First, what we currently see is a world in crisis. Second, our world leaders, especially in wealthy nations, are not taking enough action to protect our environment and those most affected by climate change.

Autumn Peltier, 15 year old indigenous climate activist

Autumn Peltier, 15-year-old indigenous climate activist

Each of the panelists challenged those in the room to recognize climate change and climate response through their unique perspectives. Elham Youssefian, with the International Disability Alliance, gave audience members the perspective of a climate response that is cognizant of people with disabilities. She said, “People with disabilities is a diverse group, because there are different types of disabilities. This makes them the largest minority in the world. 15% of the world’s population has some disability. This is equal to 1 billion in the world.... All policies should be inclusive of all needs.” Some of the inclusive policies she mentioned include tsunami warnings for those who are deaf, and not banning plastic straws because they are essential for some people with disabilities.

Rick Chavolla, of the American Indian Community House, also challenged the audience to recognize the actions of indigenous people within the climate justice movement, such as Autumn Peltier, a 15-year-old water protector from the Wiikwemkoong First Nation. Chavolla stressed that fighting for the earth is a tradition that has been passed down for generations, saying, “Autumn Peltier learned how to fight for the earth from her grandmothers.”

Overall, speakers iterated that we need conscious climate action that honors the actions and the traditions of those individuals and communities who have been doing the work for generations.

Towards the end of the event, audience members committed to a climate action within their communities and organizations. Some dedicated their action toward making their organizations more sustainable. Others dedicated themselves to individual goals, such as composting. While a commitment of action was only made by those who attended the event, it raises a larger discussion to be had amongst society: What comes next in the face of this climate crisis, and what actions are necessary to make effective change? At the adoption of the Paris Agreement four years ago, 196 countries committed to actions that would keep the global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels. However, even if all governments meet their Paris Agreement targets, the world would still see 3 degrees Celsius of warming. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to pressure world leaders to take more urgent action to address the climate crisis.

Devastation in Dallas, TX after a tornado in Oct 2019

Devastation in Dallas, TX after a tornado in Oct 2019

Over the past year, the world has watched the planet cry for help on many occasions. Within the past month, we have seen fires devastate Australia’s environment and wildlife, earthquakes damage the island of Puerto Rico, and volcanoes threaten thousands of lives in the Philippines. The climate crisis can also be felt here in the United States. In mid-January, I traveled to Dallas, Texas, where I saw the devastation still present from a tornado that occurred three months ago. Even over 5 years later, New Yorkers are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Sandy. These disasters remind us every day that the climate crisis is not a thing of the past or of the future: It is happening now and it will provoke increasingly severe natural disasters around the globe.

It is no secret that the climate crisis is reaching a tipping point. Humanity is being called to take collective action. It is our job to stay informed on policies being proposed and adopted that affect our environment and to pressure our governmental officials to make the best decisions for our climate. One way that you can do this is by participating in Climate Strikes occurring across the world on Wednesday, April 22, Earth Day. This will include a day of striking followed by two days of action. Visit Climate Strikes formore information on and the actions to follow. Along with striking, you can also register to attend the 2020 Intergenerational Spring Seminar entitled “All In for Climate Justice: People, Power, Planet” to gain the skills and knowledge to return home equipped to engage in action for climate justice. We must turn the words of those who spoke at “A Climate in Crisis: The Fight for Justice in a Warming World” into immediate and collective action—because our world depends on it. 

About the Author

Sydney Boyer

Sydney Boyer is an intern with the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. She is a student at Fordham Graduate School of Social Service graduating with a Master’s in Social Work in May 2020....

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