Jamie Racine left for Copenhagen, Denmark in early December in hopes of witnessing, even helping to create, an international agreement to reverse global warming.
While the negotiations didn't go as she hoped - no agreement was reached - Racine returned from the climate change conference with a wealth of knowledge, insight and confidence in the strength of a worldwide movement to protect the planet and everyone who lives here.
Racine traveled to Copenhagen - renamed "Hopenhagen" by some during the climate change conference - as part of a Midwest youth delegation organized by the Will Steger Foundation. She was one of 2,000 youthes from around the world, including 500 from the U.S., who organized in Copenhagen to influence the global treaty and to speak on behalf of millions of youthes around the world who are concerned about the catastrophic environmental degradation that us under way.
While the delegation was young, it came prepared. Using an ingenious array online tools, organizational skills and creativity, youthes attended negotiations, pinned down the heads of state on key issues and reported back to communities around the world about their hopes for what Racine described as a "bold, binding and just treaty."
"We saw US youth quoted in Chinese papers, Chinese youth in Indian papers and Indian youth in US papers," Racine said. "It didn't matter what country we represented. We were working for the future across lines."
Racine herself blogged, Tweeted and recorded daily during the three-week long trip. She wrote for The Journal Times (read here and here), and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (read here), interviewed Gov. Jim Doyle, held video conference calls with students from Walden High School, and was quoted in three Copenhagen-area newspapers.
Racine was also part of closed-door meetings with US government leaders, sat in on treaty negotiations, and joined 100,000 people in their march through Copenhagen. The challenge for the youth movement, Racine said, was to display its energy, while also coming off as meaningful participants in the negotiations.
"There was some concern and discussion about how we are perceived in media and by the negotiators when planning actions," Racine said. "We wanted to show passion, livelihood and fun, but also be taken seriously."
To overcome any prejudices, many of the youthes became experts on policy and immersed themselves in the negotiations. Some participants actually got language added to the treaty - a major accomplishment that requires the approval of over 100 countries, Racine said.
Locally, the intensity of youth interest in the climate change negotiations - and the concern for the global environment - was apparent in Walden High School students who followed Racine, and the Copenhagen conference. They watched issue briefings online, followed daily/hourly news and advocated for a
Racine said she wasn't surprised. "Youth are under great criticism because of their age, so they become more knowledgeable," she said.
For all their work, though, the youth movement couldn't sway world leaders to a final agreement. One of the most important, and for Racine, disappointing, hold outs was President Obama.
The president was scheduled to speak at the conference on a day when the public - including the youth delegation - was not able to attend. Racine watched from her hotel room as Obama, basically, doused any hope of a treaty during a lifeless, perfunctory speech.
"What we saw on Friday, was the president fly in, came in through a backdoor, talk to heads of state, and leave out of back door," Racine said. "He appeared disengaged. He didn't talk with the level of passion we've seem him speak."
"Initially it was a vast disappointment," she said. (Read Racine's account of Obama's speech here.)
Back in the states, Racine's disappointment with the conference's outcome gave way to hope for the coalition she witnessed forming across international boundaries and above and beyond a handful of leaders. The heads of states may still be struggling with global warming, but millions of people around the world are taking action to prevent the catastrophic changes we could see in our lifetimes without meaningful action.
"Our results cannot be defined by the heads of our governments," she said.
The reason? Global climate change is too important of an issue to leave to politicians.
"We're not talking about a far off issue," said Racine, who keeps her 2-year-old daughter in mind when thinking of a world that could look vastly different in 50 years if temperatures continue to rise. "We're talking about our ability to grow food and house the human pouplation. Millions of people will be displaced."
There are plenty of opportunities to take action, Racine said. The state Legislature and the U.S. Congress are scheduled to vote on climate change legislation this year, and the next international climate change summit is scheduled for Mexico City in December.
Racine said she's hoping to attend the Mexico City summit. There's already talk of a bike trip from the Midwest, and she hopes to be part of it.
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