Our Window into Paris: COP21 program has begun! We truly kicked things off on a high note today: we spent the morning getting to know each other, practicing blogging and interview skills, and gaining some grounding in local, national and international policy from our special guests, former state senator Ellen Anderson and state representative Melissa Hortman. Phillip also presented the group with handmade pocket squares, made by a friend of his in Denver.
In the afternoon we headed to a fantastic event in the heart of Paris hosted at UNESCO called “An afternoon of storytelling with Robert Redford.” The messages conveyed throughout the event resonated strongly with the last year of climate storytelling work we have done through our Climate Minnesota: Local Stories, Community Solutions project.
Speakers at the event included:
Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
Robert Redford, Actor/Environmentalist
Rhea Suh, President of the NGO Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Poet, Activist, Marshall Islands
Mundiya Kepenga, Papuan traditional Leader, Papua New-Guinea
Mina Setra, Deputy Secretary General of AMAN (Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago), Indonesia
Secretary General Bokova framed the event and the issue of climate change immediately, saying that, “When we speak about climate, we speak about humanity.” Redford followed her up in his introduction of the storytellers saying, he “…believes in the power of stories to engage emotions and enlist sympathies, so when the message is over it stays with them.” He also introduced the panel, which consisted of indigenous representatives, by saying, “I want to draw attention to Indigenous culture…to those that are the most vulnerable. They have great stories to tell us. It’s time to go back and listen to what they have to tell us. Who is going to know more about what the threat is than those that are most threatened?”
Similar to our own Climate Minnesota convenings, the opening speakers provided context on climate change and a trusted messenger to bring in the crowd, but the real jewels were the storytellers from local communities, talking about how climate change is impacting them at a very real and personal level. The audience was moved to laughter and tears on more than one occasion as the speakers spoke of the devastation of their forest and island homes, and the desperate situation at a very real level due to drought and famine.
All three panelists had powerful and beautiful stories to tell, but the poet and artist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s voice was the one I was most excited to hear. Kathy became well known last year when she recited her poem “Dear Matafele Peinem” to the UN General Assembly. She spoke about how, when she recited that poem to the cold, stiff UN room, she actually could feel the warmth enter, and how everyone wanted to tell her their story when it was over. She said, “Poetry, art and storytelling bring back the humanity to the issue,” something that we have tried to play out through our own storytelling panels for Climate Minnesota. Kathy treated us to one of her newest spoken word poems at the end of her time. Listen to it and feel the power of words to paint a picture of struggle and strength in the face of climate change.