Where Trump and Climate Deniers Seem Very Far Away: COP22 in Marrakech

I expected to come here to the Climate Change Conference in Marrakech to relieve the pressure of thinking about the United States government 25 hours per day. I also expected to look at the global climate crisis from the perspective of Africa, what we often call the bottom-up in my top-down kind of world.

As usual my expectations were turned upside down. No one will talk to you unless you assure them very quickly that you did not vote for “him.” Every third protest sign exasperates about Trump and the climate deniers. The main message is that Africa is no longer destitute but is instead cutting edge, both economically and environmentally, and ready to provide leadership to a top-down world.

“Please don’t come here to solve our poverty when yours is so apparent,” the message goes.

The biggest surprise for me is around women. They (we) are more prominent, more vigorous and more strategic than Paris ever imagined. Just listen to Gender Concerns International, headquartered in The Hague, with offices in Pakistan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Myanmar. “What we need is equal responsibility for the climate and equal responsiveness to the climate from both men and women.” I was as astonished at the lack of human rights language as I was about the gender shifts, visible, apparent, mind boggling everywhere in the exhibits and the speakers. Responsibility. Responsiveness. Not we have rights. Instead, we have responsibility.

“We have enormous attention on finance and technology and science and so much less emphasis on the social and cultural matters.” “We need gender sensitive budgets. We need election monitoring from a gender perspective. As soon as women have the power we need and deserve, things will be different.”

While the presentations were being made from five women from five different countries, the electricity went out. The speakers just kept going. Everyone joked, “sabotage.” And we assured each other that missing power, even electrical power, is sure proof of our environmental responsiveness and responsibility.

I was sitting next to a journalist from Uganda, Laila Ndagire Mutebi. She runs the Uganda Women’s Media Association, which produces “Mama,” the voice to listen to at 101.7 FM in Uganda. “We wish we could be on the Internet and will soon. We just have to find the resources.” She made my point twice. First about Africa, then about women.

I had preached on Sunday after our election that we don’t need to do more. No one can do more, especially women.  We need to do different. My friend and I the first night talked about putting ourselves on personal carbon budgets. We talked about our own ecological debt and the debt of the planet. That was social and cultural thinking. Yes, we are buying carbon offsets for our trips here. We were amused at our green souls traveling in the air and increasing her carbon footprint in order to decrease it. We decided next year we will bike.

To compensate for the greenhouse gases a trip generates, you can send money to a project that will reclaim carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or prevent it from being emitted at all. The cash might go towards reforestation or cleaner cook stoves or a methane collection project.

Look for certification from Climate Action Reserve, the Verified Carbon Standard or Gold Standard all of which provide data that tell you how much carbon your dollars will offset. These sites are like taking medicine for high cholesterol. They don’t prevent the base of the problem so much as ameliorate it till you can.

Before I had been at the conference for an hour, I met Laila and Gender Concerns International. Then I went to a finance meeting, where a British banker, female, was talking about how finance was not the problem. “There is plenty of finance but not enough projects to finance.”

Of course, watching these women, I wasn’t in the blue room or the red room, where decisions are being made and where I imagine things are different. I was in the green room, with all the rest of the people who were knocking on the door of power and responsibility.

If you remember the “Doha Miracle Gender Decision” from way back in COP18, you, like me, are becoming a COP groupie. In that miracle, a decision was made not just to get to Emissions Zero, a noble enough goal. The decision was also to move towards equal, as in 50% participation of women in climate decision making.

Watch out red and blue rooms, here we come.