Day 3 – COP25, Madrid, Spain
We are half way through our week at the U.N. climate conference on the Christian Observer program, and I have settled in. I’m relieved that I’ve learned to navigate the metro, get through the security at the conference, maneuver in the enormous Blue Zone of the convention site, and connect with the leaders and groups I hoped to see.
Our third day started with a devotion from our program leader and spiritual guide Lowell Bliss, who shared from Revelations 12:11 “They did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” As climate advocates at COP25, we dive into the suffering of people around the world who have lost their lands to sea level rise; their loved ones to hurricanes, cyclones and diseases; their communities to drought and famine; and their childhoods to activism. We also brace for the devastating losses to come that will hurt people all over the world if we don’t make the changes to reduce green house gas emissions within the next 11 years. As Christians, we are compelled to participate in this testimony, to not look away, and to perhaps even risk our lives, for the people who are suffering. This work hits close to home as a native Floridian because in our own state, people are hurting from climate change impacts like the devastation from Hurricane Michael, the Zika virus, sea level rise, adverse weather that impacts crops, and extreme heat.
As I made my way to the conference site, I passed rows of armored police trucks and saw the Spanish equivalent of SWAT team security guards stationed all around the building. I realized this convention would be an attractive target for terrorists, and that all thirty thousand attendees were exposed to potential violence. Perhaps as climate advocates, we were even risking our lives by attending COP25. I hurried into the building to get out of the cold and what felt like the danger zone.
Inside, I rushed over to meet our group who was having a private session with renowned British author and climate communicator, George Marshall, who founded the nonprofit Climate Outreach, conducts research, and writes books like “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.” I found our group sitting in a semi-circle around George off to the side of one of the meeting rooms, so I sat down quickly to join the conversation. He was sharing his latest research and ideas to help us be better communicators, and I scribbled notes as he poured out his ideas. He said his research showed that most people are accepting that the weather is changing and climate change is happening, and the next step is to engage about how to prepare and protect the places and people we love. He also felt that sharing our own perspective with mutual respect about climate change with our friends, families, churches, and business circles is the best way to plant the seed of understanding that will continue to grow. George was generous with his time, he answered our questions with thoughtful responses, and I felt so lucky to meet him.
After we said our goodbyes to George, I headed back to the side session area in Hall 4 to attend a talk that I thought might be helpful for my Leon Soil & Water Conservation District work called “Raising Ambition for Climate Action: Transformation Action for a Food Secure Future.” We heard from a farmer named Ishmal from South Africa about the enormous problems farmers were facing from the extreme weather caused by climate change. They were experiencing more droughts and floods that were degrading their soils and making it very difficult to grow food for their families and communities. Dhanush Dinesh, a Global Policy Engineer, said that he was developing a tool box of solutions including educating farmers about climate change; providing them with the basic essentials of food and water when these extreme weather events strike; issuing climate insurance for lost crops to stabilize farmer’s incomes; looking at the larger picture of reducing emissions through diets of less beef and dairy and curbing deforestation for agriculture; focusing on rebuilding the soil health to capture carbon and avoid erosion; and increasing nature-based solutions like forestry farming. Dhanush’s group will be coming out with an important report providing more details about these issues in February so I made a note to check their website at http://www.transformingfoodsystems.com.
Another speaker shared that a recent “EAT” Lancet report implores us to reduce our meat and dairy consumption and to increase our plant-based food choices by fifty percent. “Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience and constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation… Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement, and today’s children will inherit a planet that has been severely degraded and where much of the population will increasingly suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease.” As challenging as this news was, it seemed fixable by reducing our meat and dairy intakes. I have been pescatarian (seafood + vegetarian) for ten years but realized that I should rethink my dairy choices as well.
I finished up at COP25 and I jumped on the metro headed to the shared flat that 15 of us were staying at in the center of Madrid. I was excited about my dinner plans with my friend Christine Dallet who lived in Madrid that I hadn’t seen since 10th grade at Florida High School. I sent her a Facebook message about a month ago that I was coming and it turned out that she worked close to where I was staying, so we made plans for dinner at 9 pm. It’s true that in Madrid, everyone eats dinner late, and I was already used to it after just a few days. I waited outside my old stone building for her and before I knew it she was there giving me a big hug and looking just like I remembered her: blonde, blue eyed, and such a great smile! We used to play sports together and she always had a sharp wit and was kind to me even though I was two years younger than her. We made our way to a seafood restaurant she picked called Il Barril, and as soon as we walked in the door the staff expressed their affection for her with hugs and kisses on the cheeks, and she spoke beautiful Spanish as I watched in awe of her and the lively interaction.
The next three hours included some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted, and the chance to catch up with my friend who has lived a beautiful life in Madrid since she fell in love with the city on a study abroad program in college. We feasted on adobe seasoned fried fish bites, small zesty green peppers sprinkled with sea salt, tender octopus and potatoes with smoked paprika, divine poached artichokes in olive oil, and a rich chocolate lava cake that I was almost too full to enjoy. Almost. As a sangria lover, I also had to try a glass and this one was traditional and delicious. It was midnight by the time we took our last bite, and as we walked together through the cobblestone streets of Madrid, I was filled from the amazing meal, our special time together, from all that I learned at COP25 that day, and a sense that I was gaining just as much from my advocacy work as I was giving.