COP25: We Are the Solution

A climate crisis protest in Madrid. The people in the image hold up banners in Spanish that read "Mar Menor is Dead?"
A climate crisis protest in Madrid. The people in the image hold up banners in Spanish that read "Mar Menor is Dead?"
A climate crisis protest in Madrid. Image Credit: Alexis Pascaris

The second in a series of student blogs by Michigan Tech’s representatives at COP25 in Madrid.

My time here at COP25 has been turbulent, to say the least. I landed in Madrid with high hopes and ecstatic expectations regarding the international negotiations and am returning to Houghton with an entirely different perspective than when I arrived.

The slogan for this year’s convention — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP25) — is “Time For Action.” It’s time to get serious about our national efforts to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to act upon plans for long-term climate resiliency. Overlooking my understanding that systematic change doesn’t happen overnight, I embraced this call for immediate action and felt energized at the prospect of being part of swift and deliberate efforts to address our global climate crisis.

An Emotional Rollercoaster

Bright and early Monday, Dec. 2, I draped my UN badge proudly over my chest and marched into the convention eager to witness groundbreaking change. I spent my first day stumbling around a labyrinth of negotiation halls, panel discussions, side events and coffee vendors only to find myself losing energy with each step.

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Despite the promising underlying intention of the convention — to harmonize global efforts around addressing climate change — I quickly felt it was more symbolic than substantive. My head hung heavy in the back row of lectures discussing the current state of fossil-fuel investment and my soul sunk in terror as I watched vivid simulations of what the world will look like if we continue with business as usual.

I crawled home late that night wondering how on Earth I would be able to survive an entire week of the political jungle I had just battled my way through.

The next morning I strapped on my boots for round 2, but this time around I planned to turn my anger into action. My fellow Michigan Tech colleagues Shardul Tiwari and Adewale Adesanya, along with other students from our consortium of universities, were given the opportunity to host a discussion showcasing our research on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

My team, consisting of an interdisciplinary group of Michigan Tech students Will Lytle, Karuna Rana, Jessica Daignault and Gabriel Ahrendt, specifically focused on SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Our presentation highlighted domestic case studies that provided insight into the opportunities and challenges associated with achieving SDG11 and concluded with a call to action for both individuals and policymakers. It was empowering to be on the other side of the microphone and I felt immensely inspired by our shared capacity as students and youth to contribute to systematic change.

I found myself once again at the top of my emotional rollercoaster ride, this time with a heightened awareness of the magnitude of the dilemma we are collectively facing.

Finding Power in Human Connections

Arguably the most important thing I gathered during my time at COP25 was the liberating realization that we aren’t bound or imprisoned by what comes of these negotiations. I have come to understand that no matter what happens behind those closed doors, we will always have our communities, our connections, our hearts and the capacity for resilience and transformation.

Alexis Pascaris stands in front of lettering on a wall that reads "It's time to act for the planet."
Pascaris at COP25 in Madrid, with the conference's main sentiment emblazoned on the wall. Image Credit: Alexis Pascaris 

On Friday, Dec. 6, we joined a climate strike alongside more than 500,000 other hopeful souls. We filled the streets with a revolutionary force — young, old, black, white — a choir of different voices singing the same song. We are fighting for our common home, our common future, and I believe there is no rule or regulation that is more important than this intrinsic and fundamental power of our human connections. 

If I were to paint you a picture of my experience at COP25, it would be one of shadows conquered by radiant light. The journey was not exactly glorious; it was raw, real and downright scary. I was mercilessly inundated in information, moved to tears of absolute anger and eventually uplifted by the beauty of the human spirit. After witnessing a range of disheartening, complex and empowering discussions, I have concluded that we are no longer allowing the darkness of the climate crisis to intimidate our pursuit for radical change. 

Together we shall firmly commit to choosing hope over despair, choosing the planet over profit, choosing to take action now rather than look the other way. It is only when we see that the solution is inside of us will we really begin to solve things. Perhaps that’s the irony: We are the solution we have been desperate for this entire time. 

Thankfully, the journey doesn’t end here. At this moment, I am writing this blog post from the seat of a train headed far in the opposite direction of the climate change convention. High into the Pyrenees mountains I go, where I seek to take a step back, take a deep breath and reconnect with the planet I am fiercely devoted to protecting.

It is very important to continuously nurture our relationship with the Earth as to never lose sight of what we’re fighting for. Our movement towards healing and unity continues, and I am no longer afraid because I do not doubt that goodness will prevail.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.