Dispatch from Montreal

Environment & Ecology / by Hannah Hoag /

A youth-led movement builds at the UN's climate change talks.

montreal2.jpg Hockey players mourn the threat to their sport of rising temperatures.  Photo: Rosa Kouri/carroll.org.uk.

The Wing building may be the oldest building in Montreal’s Chinatown. It was built in 1862 by the same architect who designed the gaudy, yet breathtaking, Notre Dame Basilica in the old city. Over the years, it has been a military school, a paper box factory and a warehouse; today it is best known for bulk fortune cookies and noodles. 

On a cold December day, midway through the international climate change talks that took place in Montreal from November 28th to December 9th, Zoë Carron dropped by Wing’s. She left with 1,000 fortune cookies. Later that evening, she and about a dozen other young activists, most in their 20s, spent almost three hours printing, cutting and stuffing the cookies with tiny fortunes they had written.

The next day, Carron, 20, the Atlantic regional coordinator of the Sierra Youth Coalition’s Sustainable Campuses Project, stood at the foot of a three-story escalator in the Montreal convention center, hawking the cookies to international delegates returning for the afternoon’s negotiations. Their fortunes had motivational slogans like, “You will not stand for increasing emissions” or “A clean renewable energy future is near.”

“A lot of them were like, ‘Yeah, I know, I’m doing this already!’” said Carron. Some even returned and grabbed handfuls of cookies to take to the other members of their delegations.

The fortune cookie giveaway was one of the daily demonstrations staged by some of the Montreal meeting’s nearly 400 young attendees. They had arrived from as far away as the Philippines and Australia, from small fossil fuel-dependent towns in Canada, and from politically slick cities like Washington, D.C. Most wore board shorts and t-shirts, or capris and camisoles; the uniform of the day’s message: “It’s getting hot in here.” Others went a more professional route, donning jackets and khakis, blouses and skirts. One young woman took the middle ground, pairing a dark pinstripe pantsuit with pink flip flops.

They met daily to plan the next day’s action or the arrest of a colleague. They argued over the language included in the Youth Position Paper— a guide for their lobbying activities and in the authoring of a statement that five representatives delivered at one of the plenary sessions later in the week—not unlike the delegates jockeying over words elsewhere in the convention center. But in this room, they voted with ‘twinkles’—raising their hands high above their hands and wriggling their fingers—and cheered and whistled when a motion passed.

“It’s about getting the message out that what [the delgates] are doing is for our future,” said Mike Hudema, 28, a clean car campaigner with Global Exchange, an international human-rights organization.

Hudema grew up in the oil-rich province of Alberta. He received “a scholarship from the Sierra Club to do a short public service announcement and asked a friend what it would take to get him interested in climate change. He said, ‘I don’t care about climate change; I care about hockey.’” So, Hudema appealed to the environmental issue by combining it with his country’s official winter sport.

During the first week of the conference, Hudema organized an outdoor hockey game set in 2020. The rink, bordered by two-by-fours and located in an empty parking lot, never froze. Team Earth’s players—wearing mismatched jerseys and green toques decorated with conifer boughs—shifted anxiously during the game’s opening ceremonies.

“On the right wing we have Ice Floe—a very rare sight especially after all the hits he took over the past decade,” said the announcer. “Indeed he seems smaller and smaller each year.”

Team Hurricane’s players hulked near a goal. Sergei Ulvanovitch Valcovitch, nicknamed SUV, played center; Katrina Rita Wilma, who had single-handedly devastated the teams of Florida and Louisiana in 2005, was right wing. The players sloshed around on the make-shift rink for a few goals, but soon gave up and held a mock funeral to mourn the death of hockey (brought about because there was no ice to play on).


By December 7th, 10 days into the conference and the same day as the cookie handout, negotiations had stalled. The US remained opposed to future emissions-reducing targets. When the Kyoto Protocol was announced in 1997, it required the 38 participating industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. Over the years, developing countries like China and India have balked, fueling the Protocol’s eventual rejection by President Bush in 2001 (he claimed such cuts would harm the US economy).

That morning, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin singled-out the United States for refusing to discuss on mandatory carbon caps (or agree to a future discussion): “To the reticent nations, including the United States, I say there is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it.”

Meanwhile the world’s Inuit—represented by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC)—filed a petition with the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The 163-page document alleges that Inuit human rights have been violated by an American government that contributes to global warming more than any other nation.

“How would you feel if an international assessment told you your culture and way of life were doomed?” said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, ICC chair, at a session titled “The Right to be Cold.” “The change will be so great that Inuit will be no longer able to maintain their hunting culture. I fear we won’t have time to adapt.”


On Friday, Dec. 9, the last scheduled day of the talks, only 20 youth attended the meeting. There were many drawn faces and dark eyes in the crowd, but those who came out remained optimistic. They talked about what they had accomplished—“The blog [www.itsgettinghotinhere.org] was in the New York Times!”—and what they will do when they return home. Most will continue to develop climate-change awareness and action on a local level.

“We only have a small group left; but let’s take what we’ve done here and keep the momentum going in our countries, cities and universities,” said Jeca Glor-Bell, of the Sierra Youth Coalition.

A dark-haired young man with glasses poked his head through the door. The delegates were preparing to discuss Article 3.9 of the Kyoto Protocol. They youth rushed off. The article determines whether countries will negotiate post-2012 commitments after the first phase of Kyoto expires. It was time to see if their efforts had had an impact.

 

Originally published December 15, 2005

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