From Polar Bears to People: How the Climate Movement Changed in 2015

blog-how climate movement changed-12.29.15A few weeks ago, as world leaders were gathered in Paris for the climate conference, I was traveling around India with my husband. We spent the last night of our trip in the holy city of Varanasi, where we took an evening boat ride on the Ganges River. In accordance with custom, I lit a small candle surrounded by flowers, made a wish, and set it afloat. My wish was for the continued good health of my loved ones. Other lanterns drifted nearby, many no doubt bearing similar wishes. But one of my fondest hopes had already come true – an historic, monumental climate accord in Paris.
It was an interesting time to be in South Asia. In the final days and hours of the negotiations, India took on a critical role as parties worked on a compromise that would set meaningful emission targets without hampering economic development. The final agreement sets a lower level of obligation for developing countries, while still (and for the first time) requiring them to reduce the trajectory of their emissions growth.
The climate accord was the grand finale of an extraordinary year for the climate movement. This is the year the narrative finally shifted from polar bears and icebergs to people. Many organizations (including ecoAmerica) had already been advocating an approach based on personal relevance, common values, and local impacts, but in recent months this messaging went mainstream. Prominent health leaders drew attention to the link between climate change and health impacts like asthma and heat stroke. Pope Francis and other faith leaders pointed out that climate change is most damaging to the poor and vulnerable, and called on every one of us to take action as a matter of conscience. As the moral dimensions of the climate issue became clear, inaction became simply unacceptable.
The Paris accord was motivated by a number of priorities – economic growth, food security, resource availability – but at its heart, it was about the common desire to protect and provide for our families. Not just our children, parents, siblings, and spouses, but our human family – our brothers and sisters around the globe.
In Paris, world leaders rose above partisanship, national interests, and terrorist threats to form an agreement that literally and figuratively brought the entire planet together. Now, the challenge is to fulfill the goals we’ve set. It’s a big task, but failure is not an option. In the words of Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union’s commissioner for energy and climate action, “Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we have to act. This is what the world expects of us.”
For more insights on how to engage ordinary citizens on climate solutions, check out our new research report, Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate Americans.
Image credit: Steve Hicks/flickr

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