“Love Writes a Letter, and Sends it to Hate.”
Below is an open letter to negotiating Parties at COP17 in Durban, South Africa. It represents the opinions and views of an individual and does not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Youth Delegation and related organisations
Here in Durban, COP17 is operating in full force. COP has been described by many as important, busy, dramatic and frustrating. What I see on the ground is perplexing, because though COP is all the things mentioned above, there is so much more happening than what can be described in one or two words. I feel a deep sense of outrage and anger when trying to process and explain the actions that are occurring here, and the consequences of such actions. The best way I can fathom to explain the situation is this: COP is a place where acts of extreme violence are rampant, and even worse, accepted.
The kind of violence displayed here rarely takes the form of physical fists and weapons, but weasels its way into the process in the form of hateful, demeaning, and oppressive behaviour displayed by the people here, especially countries of power.
When Canada negotiates on behalf of the tar sands, the consequences are sickness and death for tens of thousands of people, both through the degrading impacts of the extraction itself in the Athabasca River region, as well its contribution to catastrophic climate change. This is an extreme act of violence. When the Canadian government uses aid money for developing countries as a tool to threaten, manipulate, and bully them out of a fair, ambitious, and legally binding agreement, using the lives of thousands as a bargaining chip for the benefit of the tar sands, this is an extreme act of violence. When vulnerable front-line communities around the world feel the devastating effects of the climate change, without ever contributing to the problem, there is a deeply felt sense of injustice that evokes a feeling of confusion: how could human beings with any grain of integrity could let such things happen? It is nearly unfathomable.
So then, why do we continue to fear the use of the word violence?
As someone committed to addressing oppression, I am deeply dedicated to using non-violent tactics to address this violence – a truly necessary course of action that I believe must be chosen. But that does not mean that we do not have an obligation to identify this violence, to call it out, to challenge it outright. We must name the consequences of this violent behaviour: war, famine, flood, loss of lives, culture, and livelihoods. This is the brutal truth that this process, and the people who operate within it, refuse to address. This is not a game, nor is it a joke. This is a form of structural violence that must end if we have any chance of living in a sustainable and equitable society.
The continued suffering and systemic oppression of thousands of people depend on our acknowledgement, action and empowerment to address violent behaviour. Where is this leadership? Where are our leaders? Will you listen to what billions of people around the world are begging you to do? Where is your moral imperative? Where is your heart?