Why we ran into the jungle, and other stories from COP16

You may have read about our misadventure in the Mexican jungle yesterday.  At the time it seemed ridiculous, but having reflected a little bit more on the experience, I’m beginning to understand that our mad sprint through the dark forest last night was driven by more than just mob mentality.

Sitting on a sea wall overlooking the ocean at Moon Palace, I can count 7 military boats, including a massive war ship several kilometres out.  Earlier this week, I read in the newspaper that there are 5,000 marines, 15 boats and a floating hospital stationed just outside of Cancun to “ensure the peace and tranquility of visitors and Mexican residents”.

I do not believe that Mexico is inherently more violent or dangerous than Canada.  Unfortunately, a lot of the news that we receive in Canada about Mexico covers drug violence and police corruption.  It’s also undeniable that since arriving we’ve seen truckloads of police with automatic rifles and sub machine guns mounted on crossbars at most major intersections.  Many of us don’t speak the language, and are far from home in a country very different from our own.  We’ve been working full tilt since landing in Cancun, and I doubt very many of us have had the time to reflect on everything that’s happened, not just inside of the conference, but also in terms of our experiences here: what it’s like to be a women in Latin America, for example, or a privileged Westerner from the global north; how we feel about the obvious and often intimidating police presence; how difficult it is to have so many questions and so few words in spanish to express ourselves; even how we’re feeling after eating different kinds of foods prepared in unfamiliar ways.

All of these factors contributed to us picking up speed as we power walked down the road, believing that the worst possible thing that could happen was for us to not make it onto the bus and be left behind in the dark jungle with only our fears to keep us company. Once we reached the bus, rationality kicked in and we started to make clearer decisions, but out there in the dark, it didn’t feel like we were working together at all.  When you’re afraid, it’s hard to think clearly.

I wonder if some of this same fear and franticness informs decisions that we make when organizing around climate change.  I understand the science, and I’ve seen the impacts of climate change first hand – the cost of inaction is unspeakably high.  I’ll admit it – I’m afraid.  Terribly afraid.  But I don’t want this fear to shape the decisions that I make or the way that I communicate with others about climate change.  We have to find a way to communicate the urgency of the issues without allowing fear to dominate the discourse.  Otherwise, we run the risk of making snap decisions that will lead us deeper into the forest instead of out towards the light.

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