Editors Note: This is a running series documenting four UNC student's experience at the COP 23 in Bonn, Germany. See the previous entry here.
By Andrea Orengo
In the Bonn Zone of the COP23, there is a gigantic space dedicated to countries from around the world showcasing their cultures and efforts to address climate change. Germany gave out free cappuccinos while discussing its largely successful energy transition using a smart grid. Fiji demonstrated how locals weave traditional dresses while also showcasing the very real effect rising sea levels are having on the pacific islands. It didn’t matter how big or affluent a country was, all that mattered was their united effort to combat climate change. Yet, the United States of America had no pavilion. The federal government did not sponsor one. The only US presence was the U.S. Climate Action Center put on by the coalition, This center was not in the main pavilion area with the other countries, but about a 7-minute drive away.
On one hand, it is very depressing to see. This self-induced exile makes me wonder where we as a country and as a world could have been if the US had taken a stance of leadership and innovation instead of hiding its head in the sand. Americans have lost their voice in the global arena due to, in my opinion, systemic corruption and blind denial of fact in our federal government. It’s a true tragedy because Americans have so much to offer on this issue.
On the other hand, it is heartening to see my fellow Americans taking leadership into their own hands and standing with the global community. ‘We Are Still In’ is the largest cross section of the American economy ever assembled in the pursuit of climate action, all triggered by the absence of leadership from Washington DC. Members ranging from small-town Republican mayors to some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley are all committing themselves to addressing climate change through smart development, education, innovation, and legislation. I know America has the potential to be a leader in climate mitigation. We have the intelligence and tenacity to address this issue, if and only if, we finally stop waiting for DC to do the hard work for us. I personally believe that the United States will meet its goals as outline in the Paris Agreement. Only time will tell if the federal government will join us.