by May Nguyen

Titi was distressed when she announced, “So the sea is rising.  Like in Indonesia.  But your land is also sinking. What are you going to do?” Titi Soentoro looked at me and Jennifer like we were physically on a sinking ship in a storm, and not where we actually were, which was in the middle of France at the much anticipated Conference of Parties (CoP 21).

Jennifer is from Mississippi where she does research and organizing work with Steps Coalition, an environmental advocacy organization.  Jennifer and I have been on conference calls leading up to the CoP21, but we met in person about 12 hours before we both met Titi Soentoro.  Titi is from Indonesia, near Boroburdur – a mountainous region and home of a famous temple and I had travelled to while studying Bahasa several years ago.  Titi loves sunsets in Borobudur and takes beautiful pictures like this one:

Jennifer, Titi, and I met at the Climate Action Network table.  CAN is an international network of environmental non governmental organizations.  CAN was tabling at Le Bourget, an old airport that has been converted into a conference space to host the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – Conference of Parties (CoP) 21.

While in Paris, I spent most of my time at I exploring the tables and activities in Le Bourget and attending side CoP21 side events such as the Rights of Nature Hearing and the events at the Global Village.  For the benefit of those uninitiated, “side events” are these gatherings that were scheduled by civil society and may or may not be officially endorsed by the United Nations governing bodies.  The side events at Le Bourget were organized by the French government and are officially sanctioned.  When I first arrived at Le Bourget, I was somewhat taken aback by the design:

What do you see?  I see smoke stacks.  Past the smoke stacks was the conference space.  The space, including the agenda, was largely unremarkable.  It was organized, spacious, and there seemed to be a certified learned expert on just about any climate change topic.  There was also a space reserved for civil society tables and exchange.  In the age of internet, these types of platforms for exchange have become less useful to me.  

What was remarkable, however, was how quiet it was.  For a conference with thousands of people, was remarkably quiet.  So when Titi announced that the Gulf South was essentially SOL, it drew some attention.  Specifically, a gentleman from the Philippines turned to look at us curiously as if waiting for us to respond “What are you going to do?”

The situation seemed odd to me.  Here I was, an American and the object of concern for climate change advocates from nation states comprised largely of thousands of islands that are disappearing due to sea level rise.  I think my actual response at the time was something about levees and diversions.  Alas, that’s not what “I” was going to do.  That’s what the government is going to do.  What I’m going to do is a work in progress I suppose.  For now, I will continue to serve as the Community Outreach Director at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.  This blog post does not reflect the position of the University or the organization.  For me personally, I think I’ll keep trying to do my part to help those that are directly impacted by environmental degradation.