Cop21: The Power of the People

Everyone is abuzz about Cop21 this week in Paris. Will the gathering countries make serious commitments to address climate change? What would a world committed to change look like? Where can you get the finest croissant while dodging the many protestors? There is no question, this is big news.

Yet, as a tired skeptic of political action, I can’t help but be a little cynical about the proceedings. Haven’t these nations gathered before? In Montreal? In Copenhagen? And many other cities over nearly 20 years? Didn’t we hope and predict change? How can we be sure that we won’t be disappointed again?

Despite my cynicism as world leaders gather to determine the fate of climate change action on the global level, at least a lot is already happening on a local level—and the local level is something NCSE knows a lot about. I often hear from folks about how change will only be significant if we engage nations globally, but is that really true? From my experience at NCSE, it is actually quite the opposite. What I’ve seen again and again is that the tide of change often flows from the local level and from the bottom up, rather than from international or even national measures.

Consider if you will the Dover Trial of 2005 where the school board in a small district attempted to bring creationism (disguised as intelligent design) into local public schools. Thankfully teaching creationism was again found to be unconstitutional, nipping this new manifestation in the bud, but can you imagine if the trial had gone the other way? Creationism would have spread like wildfire with local groups promoting its inclusion far beyond what we see today—and believe me, we see enough already. (To read more on this court case, check out the latest issue of RNCSE!)

Or take something as simple as having climate change mentioned in science standards. The mere mention validates climate change as a science worthy of instruction, and as inclusion in the standards prompts educators to teach it, each year hundreds, thousands…even millions of students learn about the science of climate change and what we can do about it. You can argue all you want about its effectiveness, but that is a lot of citizens learning about climate change—and that is awesome.

As you can probably guess, I am a big advocate of change from the grassroots level. The more people that we can get involved on the grassroots level, the better things will be.

Does this mean I discount or discourage something as big and important as COP21? Absolutely not. COP21 is a big deal and I am hopeful that global action on climate change comes out of it. Even a small commitment, universally agreed to, will help set the stage for bigger commitments as nations learn that cutting emissions not only doesn’t lead to economic disaster, but instead stimulates a new and vibrant clean energy sector. Still, it’s important to remember that not all is lost if COP21 does not bring home a big win for change. Though COP21 may be the highest value face card in our hand, if it fails, we don’t have to fold—we have other cards to play. We can always pull the ace out of our back pocket to keep the momentum going.That ace is change at the grassroots level, from local school boards to parents to teachers to the students themselves. They are the face of change, and even without a global agreement on climate change, they can transform the future.

Image by Peg Hunter via Flickr 

Minda Berbeco
Short Bio

Minda Berbeco is the former Programs and Policy Director at NCSE.

We can't afford to lose any time when it comes to the future of science education.

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