Over the past year, I have been fortunate enough to take part in climate advocacy at all levels of civic engagement. After graduating with my masters in Environmental Engineering from University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in August 2017, I moved to Chicago and started volunteering with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) Chicago North Chapter — in November 2017. So began my climate advocacy endeavors.
This growing sense of personal empowerment — to tackle climate issues and be an engaged civil society member — has been my response to the climate risks that continue to crystallize with increasing frequency and complexity.
From discussing the basic idea underpinning climate change and carbon emissions, while sitting in a local church at my first CCL local chapter meeting in Chicago, to canvassing and doing local climate advocacy at farmer’s markets, meetups, and events with friends, family and the wider civil society, I tried to influence my local community.
From lobbying the offices of three Congressmen a few months later in June, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, and asking them to embrace the idea of a national “Carbon Fee and Dividend” policy, to engaging in open dialogues, constructive criticism and thoughtful learning at the CCL’s Annual International Conference, and representing the local, unheard voices of the civil society with my fellow climate advocates and volunteers from Chicago, I tried to influence the national dialogue and discourse on climate change.
Then recently, I had the privilege of conducting a youth workshop at the Conference of Youth (COY14) in Katowice, Poland, on how to tell better climate change stories while listening to the very personal and emotional climate change stories of people from Brazil, the Netherlands, Hungary, Taiwan, Canada, Germany and Italy.
Building on these experiences, I was invited to speak as a youth representative at an Intergenerational Inquiry at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP24) in Katowice, Poland. I was able to share my own source of motivation to do climate advocacy stemming from my own personal story, and the great work CCL is trying to do in Chicago and nationally, while sitting next to the very brave 15 year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Throughout these experiences, I have been sad about the harsh realities of climate issues that are finally upon us, but I have been more excited about the opportunities that these troubling prospects represent. Coming from a technical background, the climate science has always been clear to me. What has continued to baffle me is the inaction of our world leaders on climate issues, even in the wake of recent alarming reports such as the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.
In order to gain a granular understanding of international climate negotiations and understand the complex fabric of climate advocacy, I offered to join and was fortunate enough to be selected as a Citizens' Climate Education delegate to the COP24 United Nations Conference on Climate Change (also referred to as Conference of Parties, or COP) that took place in Katowice, Poland from Dec 3, 2018 to Dec 14, 2018.
COP24 was the perfect opportunity for dissecting, learning about, and coming to a new understanding of the complex and intricate conundrum of the global response to change. Within our delegation, and by engaging advocates from around the world, we were able to break big global issues into finer defined details with engaged dialogues, critical thinking, and much more nuanced discussions and listening.
As climate change continues to turn our ethical fabric into our geophysical reality, I realized early on that if I cannot decrease my sphere of concern, I should increase my sphere of influence. While this continues to be my guiding demeanor, learnings from COP24 were an integral experience to my own emerging sense of climate advocacy and civic engagement.
Shantanu Agrawal is a Resilience Intelligence Fellow for Citizens' Climate Education and a volunteer with Citizens' Climate Lobby's Chicago North Chapter.