Dear Todd Stern: an open letter to the US climate team

An open letter to my negotiators on Day 1 of COP18:

We haven’t met. Not yet anyway. I’m the one in the black Adopt a Negotiator shirt, the one who is currently walking the halls of the convention center, iPad in hand, eyes scanning the crowds, watching for anyone from the U.S. delegation.

It’s as empowering as it is intimidating.

Lacking the breadth of expertise you yourselves have acquired over the past twenty years of this process, I feel a little unsure of myself, waking up with nightmares that I’ll suddenly forget all my questions and instead of asking you for insight on how climate change should factor into the Republican party’s post-election soul searching, I’ll stumble over my words, cheeks burning, and say something about the weather in Doha or stare at my shoes in awkward silence. So it is a testament to how strongly I–how our entire team of trackers– feels about this that we don our tracker t-shirts in spite of our anxieties and uncertainties and go chasing after our negotiators, hoping that our presence will increase pressure on our governments to DO something about the single, most pressing threat to our future. Because the only thing more terrifying than chasing down the United States Special Envoy for Climate Change is what will happen if our climate legacy–Obama’s climate legacy– is more foot-dragging in the Senate and in the UNFCCC.

Sleep-deprived, running on caffeine, adrenaline, and hope. I may be young, I may be inexperienced, I may be naive and idealistic, but I’m here. Sitting around with other youth delegates, we make jaded jokes about the negotiation process. Our jokes and political analysis drip with cynicism, but it’s a facade because we’re still here. Still hoping against all odds that we will break through this, that equity will be addressed, that climate finance won’t stagger off a fiscal cliff, that our countries will take proactive and aggressive mitigation measures, that two degrees will be more than just a “guide post,” that the U.S. will not abandon the UNFCCC process for the Major Economies Forum.

I want to know what you tell President Obama and how he responds. Because we are asking you not just to admit that you agree with our sentiment on the need for climate change action. We are asking you to fight for us, with us. The sluggish response of the past few years leaves us with the feeling that you are telling us we need to fight for ourselves and I want to ask Obama if that is the answer he would give to his own daughters, that not only does the economy take precedence over future generations, but that the two are somehow mutually exclusive. We are frustrated because we want to believe that you are on our side, that you want what we want, but even as you are telling us you agree with what we want, you lament the fact that your hands are tied. We are doing what we can to loosen those knots.

With the help of numerous grassroots organizations, the youth climate movement in the U.S. has rallied alongside hundreds and thousands of youth from around the world to demand for action, we have organized one of the largest environmental protests that the White House has seen in decades, we are petitioning our universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and we are here, following you, tracking your progress and letting you know by our presence that we are watching because the prospect of inaction has proven too much for the political apathy that often plagues younger generations.

Again and again, youth delegates and observers have asked you what you think we should do to help the process. All of them wondering what you would do if you were in our place. Are you curious what we would do in yours? Mr. Stern, you said earlier this year that politics is the art of the possible, but Pearl S. Buck told us that, “the young do not know enough to be prudent, and so they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.” We have waited patiently for most of our lives, but if President Obama refuses to use his second term to make climate action his legacy, we will make it ours.

  • Clancy Moore

    Great letter…Nikki. Keep on Stern’s case. Good luck!!!

  • Kelly Rigg

    Beautiful, powerful letter.

  • pmagn
  • Anonymous

    Inspiring to hear the passion in your writing – this is an America we could all believe in! Best of luck over the next two weeks! Happy tacking!

  • Aden Date

    From Australia, thanks for sharing.

  • Stacey Wilenkin

    +1 with others – your tone reminds me a little bit of
    @cscaldera =)
    ..and just to say that there are moments equally surprising, but in positive terms when it comes to tracking-putting pressure-stomach butterflies-heart racing-and then..a smile. So best of luck taking on the USA tracker legacy! =)

  • Jessie

    Very well written and I am certainly glad you are there representing Nikki!

  • Damiano Iocovozzi

    Wonderful letter to the President! You young people are our hope. It will soon be your world, fractured, polluted, warmer & overpopulated. Please abandon the short sighted economic models based on hyper-consumption, over-extension, over-development, overgrowth & over-exploitation. Learn to cooperate, not compete. That will be the new way when the dust settles.

  • Joe Rankin

    Thank you, Nikki

    I was meditating the other day on how to influence lawmakers on the issues of the day, wondering if they would ever even listen. I could feel myself getting cynical. Your post from Doha inspired me to believe that ordinary people can make a difference. If the squeaky wheel gets the grease, we, all of us, need to squeak loud and long about issues such as climate change and degradation of our planet. Thank you for being our representative at the climate talks. You are our “boots on the ground.”