Transparency Item: This article is written by a guest contributor for the Graphic about her personal experience at this event. Angelea Hayes is a Pepperdine alumna (’22) who is a climate activist from Burbank, Calif.
A year ago, I watched the global climate negotiations take place from afar. At the time, I was struggling with severe climate anxiety. I was grieving the loss of a future I felt did not exist. I was overexposed to negative media and was spiraling, feeling burned out and immobilized by fear.
I felt helplessly disconnected from the room where officials were making decisions regarding my future. I felt I was too young to do anything and nobody of consequence would listen. Now more than ever, I’m sure the voices of young people are crucial to solving the climate crisis.
At the end of 2022, I attended the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, with an official climate observer badge. I traveled with the Christian Climate Observers Program, an international coalition of individuals of faith involved in climate work.
I had the incredible opportunity to sit in on an exclusive roundtable with the U.S. Delegation to COP27 that Speaker Nancy Pelosi led. Representatives from numerous organizations had the opportunity to voice their concerns.
One of these organizations was Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, an NGO I have had the privilege of working with and which currently has fellows on the Pepperdine campus. Others were the Sierra Club, Earth Uprising, National Congress of American Indians, NAACP, Robert Bullard, Beverly Wright and Peggy Sheppard — some important players in the movement.
My colleague, Elsa Barron, addressed the panel and shared her faith in the face of the climate crisis. She admitted while the evangelical church has historically been closed off to conversations on climate change, faith communities hold a lot of potential for mobilization. Barron herself demonstrates Christians engaging in climate action that can be incredibly passionate, dedicated and value-driven.
There were representatives from other faith groups, and they echoed her statement that acting on climate is one of the best ways we can love our neighbors like Scripture calls us to. Pelosi remarked that young people of faith have a unique and integral role in influencing their spiritual communities.
As the panel concluded, Pelosi asserted we owe it to children to fight for a safe future. Outside, she approached Barron and I, articulating a need for young people of faith to help “turn the tide in favor of climate action,” especially in the Republican party, by talking to their parents.
About a week and a half after the event, Pelosi announced she would be stepping down as Speaker. Since then, the title has recently turned over to the GOP, proving her sentiment a timely call to action.
My encounter with American political power at COP27 taught me three things:
1. Your actions do matter. Your community is always listening, and they care what you say. You already have access to so many potentially receptive actors, so make it count.
2. The voices of youth specifically do matter, but we can’t solve the crisis alone. This year’s climate conference featured the largest youth presence yet. Youth and the unborn are arguably the biggest stakeholders in the climate crisis. The gap between the concerns of the next generation and the action being made is closing, but there is still much work to be done.
3. There is so much passion and dedication that already exists in our world. The fact that 44,000 people showed up those two weeks in Egypt is a testament to this. Sometimes, as a young activist, it feels that progress is too slow and that there is nothing being done.
After COP27, I realized I was not alone. The stories of the individuals I met there showed me the power of grassroots activism. There is momentum and a growing movement in faith spaces. God willing, it will only continue to grow.
In the previous weeks, there has been discussion about whether COP27 was a success or a failure, and there are valid arguments for both sides. We must not let the conversation end there. At the very least, take heart in the fact that there will be many more COPs. But, what happens in between the COPs is just as crucial.
My call to action is this: get involved in whatever group you can, like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, Defend Our Future, Climate Reality Project or any organization in the US Climate Action Network, and tell your state and community representatives to take climate action.
Listen to the voices of the youth — if you are the youth, speak up. The wellbeing of all creation depends on it. Join me in choosing hope over fear and action over despair.
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