I haven’t been OK lately. And that’s OK. We can’t always feel joy, not in this world of heartbreak and injustice. The world can be depressing, but it can also be beautiful. A quick look outside my window where the trees are turning and the clouds are clearing reminds me of that. We should look to nature to keep us grounded during our darkest days.
However, these thoughts feel especially relevant as world leaders wrapped up their climate negotiations over the weekend. COP26 is over, but the climate crisis isn’t. It’s always hovering over our shoulder—growling, teeth snarling, ready to attack. This is a beast that can be tamed, though. We just have to stop feeding it.
Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re getting vulnerable. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate director of Atmos. How are you feeling in the aftermath of COP? Like I said, I’m not doing too great. That’s not just because of these climate talks. The climate crisis is only one of the many problems individuals face, but it makes everything feel much worse. Don’t we have enough to deal with? Why can’t our elected officials prevent further heartache and tragedy by taking action to stop the planet from warming? Let’s get emotional, y’all.
Exhausted. That’s the word I keep hearing from climate advocates who attended COP26. I’m exhausted too, and I didn’t even travel halfway around the world to witness mediocre climate action.
I remind myself that the outcome of COP26 could’ve been worse, but that means so little when the bar has been set so low. When the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, it included no mention of fossil fuels despite the fact that they’re the reason why the climate crisis exists in the first place. This time around, the language isn’t that much stronger.
Our elected officials—the ones who have power only because we elected them into it—haven’t yet agreed to phase out fossil fuels. They didn’t come to an agreement on climate reparations, which would help lower-income nations afford to focus on clean energy development and recover after extreme weather disasters. The countries that have contributed the least greenhouse gas emissions historically have yet again been abandoned by history’s greatest polluters.
I’m not surprised by any of this, but I am saddened by it. The world has been broken for so long, and rising temperatures threaten to crumble it into little pieces. And yet the people in power don’t seem to care. They see our exhaustion and our suffering—and they carry on, unaffected.
“They are still prioritizing the will of fossil fuel lobbyists over the planet.”
I became an environmental journalist because I saw that the world needed healing. I saw societal problems that needed a spotlight. I couldn’t turn away from how the climate crisis was already exacerbating everything else that sucked: extreme poverty, food access, housing, mental illness. I could see this as a teenager entering her first years of college, yet our elected officials who have decades on me can’t. Well, that or they refuse to. If they did recognize this reality, how could they walk away from COP26 without an adequate plan? They promised to limit warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, but instead they signed off on plans that would lead to 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming.
Dominique Palmer, a climate justice activist and student based in London and Birmingham, said she feels betrayed. Elected officials have essentially signed a “death sentence for millions,” she wrote on WhatsApp. “They are still prioritizing the will of fossil fuel lobbyists over the planet,” Palmer said. Helena Bennett, a climate policy expert and influencer from London, left the conference feeling drained. “The fate of the planet and humanity is being determined right under your nose,” she wrote via WhatsApp.
The weight is especially heavy for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color who routinely feel excluded from these negotiations. And this is only one news item we’ve had to face. Elsewhere, we’re seeing white tears be weaponized to villainize murder victims in U.S. courtrooms. We’re confronting the brutal violence police shove onto our communities.
And yet, we hold onto hope—because we have each other. That’s what I heard from the few activists with whom I connected. They refueled each other. The frontline is where the energy and empowerment is buried.
And from the grassroots, power grows. Change won’t come from behind closed doors. It’ll come from our own backyards and what seeds we sow. It’ll come from local elections and community organizing. The small everyday acts we take for granted—riding our bikes or eating local organic produce—can redirect our lives toward something greater. It can bring us to each other, bring us together, bring us into power. It’s time.