We were born into this but we didn’t cause it, so there’s this really deep injustice that we’ve been served.
Hi, I’m Gretchen and this is Before It’s Gone, the podcast where we talk about things that we might lose to climate change. This is our second episode with Dineen O’Rourke and we’re talking about what she and her entire generation stand to lose – their future.
You know, we’re a frontline community when we talk about climate change. Every person on this planet who is younger than 31 has never lived in a month with global temperatures that were below the average. So we’ve been – we don’t know anything besides climate change. We’ve never lived outside of climate change. It’s defined our entire existence.
She sees the climate crisis directly influencing how she and her friends plan for their futures.
We’ve been handed it, and if we want to have children it’s our duty to fight for a world that allows children to live. And it’s, you know, I’ve had so many disheartening conversations with young people about how they can’t have children because of the world. We really truly been robbed of the future, and wow, it can be extremely disheartening. But I’m so every day inspired by how quick we are to mobilize and how passionate. There’s something so beautiful and fiery about my generation that just really keeps me hopeful for the fact that we will be leading this in due time.
I had to ask Dinnen where she learned her activism. Did it come from her parents?
My parents aren’t activists, but they’re very supportive and engaged in other ways. My mom’s a teacher and they taught me about sea level rise as it would be affecting our community on Long Island. Our house is like five feet above sea level. Growing up on Long Island and seeing like firsthand the effects of Hurricane Sandy – the ocean just like came up to my neighborhood and it was – I was on a walk with some friends and it actually hit this playground that I always used to go on was just like in the ocean, like the waves were like on top of the slide and it it was very like dystopic imager and now when we drive on this road alongside the ocean, you used to never be able to see the ocean from the road because of all the dunes and now you can see everything – everything eroding. It’s really really clear, it’s very obvious what’s happening. The fact that bothers me the most is how that hurricane wasn’t even a hurricane when it hit my town. It was a tropical storm, so I simply can’t fathom what a category 4 hurricane would look like for where I’m from. One of the most like pressing things that my parents are thinking about right now is probably like this the sea level won’t be at our house in their lifetime, but our house won’t be worth anything if this one particular beachfront road that all that Manhattan elites come to in the summer that gives – like, we’re a tourist town – so it gives our town revenue. If those beaches don’t exist anymore then our house is not going to be worth anything. So they’re hoping to move when they retire in the next few years. It’s, you know, the fact that it’s so, it’s so easy for us to move is really It’s almost unsettling how fortunate I am in this situation, and how that’s just simply not an option for millions of people on this planet who will be feeling it way before we will. The ability to just move their house – you know, there’s people’s culture that’s tied to islands. They are not going to leave. It’s a really important reminder to hold in doing this work that, like, yes, in some way I could say that I’m a part of the frontline community, but it doesn’t feel the same urgency and injustice as places around the world – Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands and Fiji. Even Miami and New Orleans all those places where many people just won’t be able to afford to move. There’s really big looming questions for how the U.S. is going to deal with even just the level rise on its own with the amount of people that live on the coast.
So why, I asked, does she think people are so blind to the impacts of climate change?
Oh, this can be answered in so many ways. You know, I could, there’s one hand, it’s like, well it’s money, it’s the fossil fuel industry lobbying and the whole reason why people deny the issues is because of their denial campaigns that they’ve created using the platforms that like Big Tobacco used when they tried to deny that secondhand smoking wasn’t harmful. You know, it’s these age-old techniques to seem like there’s a debate created when really there’s, you know ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that this is an issue. That’s not, that’s not a debate anymore.
So what does she think it will take to make people wake up and act?
We don’t really act until it’s right in front of us, and that’s the thing about climate change – it really is scientifically difficult to attribute single events to the issue. Even when it’s very clear, like Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan, all of these. But, you know, until it hits the fan – and it has hit the fan – but I don’t know what moment it’s going to take for the rest of the world to wake up – at least the rest of the US. But I think things like having a climate denier as president like almost helps in a way to wake people up and get them to see. It were before. But there’s something I think about the human psyche and how we act and how we’re all like at least in Western society very individualized and it takes like personal effect to get us to get up.
So how does she deal with people in her own life who haven’t yet woken up to the urgency of climate action?
It’s so frustrating. It’s like, Oh Dineen, she does that climate change stuff. And thank you for doing this work and for standing up for our future, and I don’t, I don’t give a shit. I don’t want to hear that from you. Just join me. But, you know, on one hand I have a lot of friends who do other kind of important work in the world that isn’t related to climate change, and I think they’re all connected. But it’s more so my friends who aren’t really engaged in any specific way and in any kind of social change. It’s so frustrating and it’s – like when i first got involved it was really difficult for me to connect with my high school friends and friends who weren’t engaged. But I’ve been just being more gentle about it, and I need to also have a life outside of it in a way. And sometimes when I say that though I second-guess myself. I’m not sure. It would be great if everyone in my life was like absolutely involved in this, but they’re not and I have to approach that with love and understanding and there’s a reason why they’re not and hopefully they will be and I like to think of it as I don’t want to preach to them, I just want to continue doing what I’m doing and make it so interesting and enticing that they want to join in.
One way she makes it interesting is by attending the international COP summit on climate change.
I’ll be leading this coming delegation to the UN climate negotiations and so that will be in November in Bonn Germany. I’m working with an organization called SustainUS that has been bringing young people to the UN negotiations for the past 15 or so years with the intention that young people’s voices have been excluded from these negotiations. This will be her second time attending.
She also went to last year’s COP in Marrakech.
COP – Conference of the Parties as it stands for – is, wow, such an interesting space and moment in the global climate justice movement that I’m really honored to have have witnessed and been engaged in. We were selected as a group of storytellers from across every corner of the country – Hawaii to Washington State, New York – and they were thirteen of us and for two weeks we were are at COP in Marrakech, working with other youth delegations there from across the world. COP 22 was a particularly important moment in the UN process, since it was the COP right after Paris, where the Paris agreement was signed after 20 years of negotiating finally there was an agreement – an agreement that doesn’t even mention the words fossil fuels once but it’s an agreement. So while Paris was all about getting the agreement passed, Marrakech was figuring out how to implement it, and what was the roadmap.
This gathering was last November, right at the time of the U.S. presidential election.
It was only the third day into the conference and I’ve never been to a bigger funeral in my life I believe than walking in there that morning on November ninth and seeing how this international community deeply understood with this meant for the world.
But despite the collective morning and the fact that everyone there believed in climate change, Dineen witnessed some big ironies at the COP summit.
All of the COP conferences are sponsored by major companies like Shell and Chevron, Exxon. It’s comical. Sometimes we call it Conference of the Polluters – COP. And Marrakech was also sponsored by these two major mining companies that were mining for phosphates and silver in different parts of the country. One of the companies for six years has had been taking trying to take water from an indigenous nation in the mountains of Morocco, a village called Imender, and they for years occupied the mine that was trying to take their water. It’s similar to Standing Rock, the same story. And so we actually sent one of our delegates down there. Her name is Kayla and she’s a Navajo woman and she went there sharing the stories of the mining on her reservation and her stories of going to Standing Rock, and stayed there for a few days while we were at COP. And, you know, something they said to her was, We had no idea this was happening in the US. We thought it was free there. And this really clear shows how these struggles are so connected. When she came back we actually hosted some really big actions at the booths of those major mining companies that were doing this. And there were locals who came up to me at one point cause I was holding this banner, and they said, We’ve never heard of Imender. We didn’t know that this is a problem. And it was only 300 kilometers south of the conference, so it just was really kept under wraps by the government. But it wasn’t easy to stage these protests at COP. If you wanted to have any kind of demonstration inside of the conference you had to apply 24 hours ahead of time and you had to tell the secretariat everything that was going to be on your banner and then they would tell you, You need to take that off, or you can’t say this. You couldn’t mention anyone’s name or any country in your action because you couldn’t be confrontational. It’s just the complete antithesis to having any kind of protest. It was extremely frustrating but it required us to be very creative. And they give you, you have a half hour and you can only be in this space. It made me really excited to come back home and hold some actions that really pissed people off. And, look, like you know that’s the point here. I want to create disruption.
She’s got big plans for the 2017 COP in Germany.
Really, the goal is to convene a really skillful group of young people to go and provide, utilize our skills to elevate the voices of those on the front lines at COP. The largest coal mine in] Europe just happens to be an hour from where the conference is being held, so that’s exciting.
I have one last question for Dineen. Looking at at her future, knowing all that she does about the realities of climate change, is she hopeful?
I’m hopeful I think about one of my teachers, Joanna Macy, and she’s a philosopher who’s developed a practice called The work That Connects, and it’s about honoring you pain for the world and moving forward with it in an active way. She refers to active hope – that there’s passive hope of being like, oh, you know, for example, I think Obama’s going to save us from climate change. He’ll do it. That’s hopeful, you know. That’s like a passive hope. That’s not taking it into your own hands. But active hope is saying, it’s being honest about the severity that we’re in, but it’s making the choice to act. And the action like breeds – it can’t help but just breed this sense of hope, I think. I think it’s just inevitable that when you’re a part of the movement this vibrant and loving and intelligence and engage, growing so rapidly, how can – how can I not be hopeful? You know, they’re not mutually exclusive, understanding that, yeah, it’s going to be really, really shitty. And we’re already locked into some extremely horrible conditions for the future that, like, people are already feeling around the world. And that’s real, and there’s – there’s a balance in communicating that extreme place that we’re in with this issue right now, with the unprecedented inspiring movements that we can be a part of to change it. And I just feel like I don’t have a choice about whether or not I can be hopeful. if I wasn’t then I just I wouldn’t be as engaged as I am because I could just – I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I don’t want to be motivated by fear no I’m motivated by my love for the world and the people on this planet and our interconnection to it all. Of course I’m hopeful because of that. I have to be.
And that is it for this episode of Before It’s Gone. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you Dineen for participating. BeforeItsGone.show is our website. You’ll find our past episodes, where you can subscribe and, most importantly, the buttons where you can donate to the show and support our efforts to tell stories about climate change.
Our next episode is about something that is near and dear to my heart – maple syrup. And it’s a real good news, bad news situation. The bad news is maple syrup production is definitely being affected by climate change. The good news is Vermont has its best scientists on the case.
UVM Proctor Maple Research Center has more experimental research going on now, some of which they look at saplings and actually draw the maple, draw the sap right out of the top of saplings so it’s – I mean, that’s something that’s very different from what’s going on now and is not, it’s just in the research phase but, you know, there are people at UVM and people at Cornell that are looking at a variety of different adaptations and innovations for continuing to increase maple yields and maple production.
That’s next time on Before It’s Gone. I’m Gretchen. Beforeitsgone.show is our website, and thank you again for listening.