In November 2021, a group of 45 Cornell undergraduates and graduate students had the opportunity to witness the annual global climate change negotiations at the 26th Conference of Parties, a summit where world leaders discussed environmental policy. For some present, it was a continuation of their commitment towards a cleaner future through global and local activism efforts.
The COP26 summit, held in Glasgow, Scotland, was marked by further agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and tentative plans to scale down coal usage.
Earth and Atmospheric Sciences 4443: Global Climate Change Science and Policy typically travels to see the event in person, but COVID-19 related travel restrictions prevented the trip this year.
Alejandra Plaza Limón, grad, was one of the students who watched the negotiations virtually. Watching the negotiations in class, according to Limón, was meaningful due to her experience as a climate activist.
In 2019, Limón participated in the annual One Young World Summit as a representative of Mexico, where she previously worked to promote clean energy.
While visiting the Mexican senate in 2018, Limón experienced the vulnerability felt by climate activists around the world.
“We feared individually naming ourselves,” Limón said.
In light of recent reports about progressively worsening climate conditions by reputable figures such as NASA, ecoactivism has seen a steady rise. Unfortunately, violence against activists has also been growing. According to a Global Witness report, 2020 was the most dangerous year for climate activists on record, with over 200 climate activists killed.
“Individual activists are definitely targets of violence,” Limón said. “There is an unbearable level of corruption, of impunity, of violence.”
Even more disturbingly, these numbers could very well be an underestimate.
“It’s heartbreaking that people out there get villainized for the things they care for,” said Connor Tamor ’22, an environment and sustainability major. “It’s an issue that truly needs to be tackled globally, especially at the regional level.”
The violence has not deterred student activism, with many students and Ithaca community activists marching in support of sustainability legislation in Ithaca and across New York. The Climate and Community Investment Act was a big catalyst in local activism, legislation that promosies to devote more resources to developing renewable energy sources.
“I’ve realized that [Cornell] is beautiful for letting us safely fight on such a high pedestal for the things we love,” Limón said. “But the reality of the world beyond is a crude awakening that it’s not like this.”
Additionally, the University is taking steps to make its Ithaca campus more sustainable, evidenced by its focus on the viability of geo heating.
Environmental activists both here at Cornell and around the world continue to question whether institutional leaders will take the proper steps to provide protection for activists.
“The grassroot movement has become very powerful,” Limón said, “but one that has turned dangerous in recent times. Cornell activists are unique in their position to protest without fear.”