By Sophie Mansoor
I had the remarkable opportunity to attend 2018’s Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) which was held in the diverse and beautiful city of San Francisco and hosted by California’s Governor Jerry Brown. It was an experience like nothing I’ve ever had before.
In between doing homework and obsessing over books, attending an event like GCAS wasn’t something I thought would ever happen. However, I’m lucky I belong to a great organization called Heirs To Our Oceans (H2OO). We are a group of youth leaders dedicated to inspiring action amongst youth worldwide, and, as part of H2OO, I was given an opportunity to attend GCAS, and I grabbed it not knowing what to expect but was excited of what could be. I learned I was going to be joined by another Heir from our Founding Chapter, Kiran Garewal, and two Heirs visiting from the Republic of Palau — Aliyah Tadao and Max Scott. Palau is located in the Pacific in a region called Micronesia; I couldn’t wait to see them.
When I arrived, fashionably early, at the Moscone Center on the first day of the Summit, I was awestruck at the number of people who were there. As I waited for my fellow Heirs to arrive, my eyes flashed from person to person, taking in everything as each minute ticked by, and then it struck me–I was one of the only youth there. I nervously picked at my Heirs T-shirt, rearranged the blue scarf that hung from my neck, which my mom insisted I wear, and I kept adjusting my hair. I’m not going to lie, I felt out of place in the mass of business people, political leaders, scientists, journalists, and even celebrities. Over 4000 delegates were invited, all from different parts of the world, and had different backgrounds, but through all our differences, I realized that I had at least one thing in common with all the delegates who came to GCAS–we were here to save our planet. I met up with my fellow Heirs, and then we headed into the first session of the day.
Throughout the first day, I was able to listen to most of the speakers giving their input and solutions to the imminent threat of global warming and climate change, expanding my knowledge of the subject. I never imagined being in the same room of the likes of our Governor, Jerry Brown; British primatologist and anthropologist, Jane Goodall; the former Vice President, Al Gore; the former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and even more! Also, Harrison Ford was one of the speakers, and he was fantastic, though my Star Wars loving heart couldn’t help imagining what it would have been like to have Chewbacca there with him.
Besides listening to the intriguing talks given by equally phenomenal people, for me, the Summit was also a time to create stronger bonds with the Heirs that joined me. I heard a lot about the two Heirs that came from Palau, Aliyah, and Max, but I had never met them before the Summit. I learned that they are truly incredible individuals, both filled with so much passion for our planet, and genuinely so kind. I was, and still am, so glad to be able to meet them and create a bond that will remain strong, even with being thousands of miles away.
The moment I came home, I immediately slipped out of my shoes, the same ones that killed my feet as we walked back to the train station, and hopped onto my bed, relishing in its warmth and comfort–but I couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing with thoughts about the day. All the stories we hear about how climate change is affecting us are not fiction; the hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires are not just accidents without correlation. Humans, animals and the environment are dying right in front of us; habitats and homes are being destroyed–this is not something we can keep on ignoring. I remember a quote from Ford, and he said “We are all rich or poor, powerful or powerless, [and] we will all suffer the effects of climate change;” I can’t agree anymore. If we act like climate change is not a serious problem, soon life as we know it will change, and it’s not for the better. With that thought, my eyes fluttered shut.
It was now the second day of the Global Climate Action Summit, and the environment had become familiar; I easily blended into the crowd. We had missed most of the opening sessions, so we explored the place, talked to other delegates, and managed to secure an interview opportunity with the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) later in the day. However, soon after, we were shuffled out of the Summit so we could watch one of our fellow Heirs, Charley, speak to 300 middle-schoolers at a GCAS affiliate event with National Geographic photographer and the founder of SeaLegacy Cristina Mittermeier who presented alongside Charley. They talked about the power of connections between people and water and people to our water — “Critical Connections.”
After the presentation, we all quickly left back to the Summit, piling into two different cars. It was a tight squeeze for me, but it ended up being worth it, as I was in the same car as Cristina Mittermeier! It was surprising to hear about her work being a photographer and her dedication for saving the environment through media; I was inspired by how Cristina turned her passion from a hobby to a full-blown career, and I would hope to do the same with my life–being able to pursue what I’m passionate about.
Soon we arrived back at the Summit and met up with the rest of our group. We quickly raced down to grab some food before lunch ended, and waited until the time for the interview with ACE arrived. In between running around from place to place, we finally had a moment just to talk, and that’s what we did. We discussed the Summit, but we also chatted about other stuff, like how Aliyah had cashews for the first time yesterday, and Max gets so intrigued when he sees a pigeon in the city because they’re not like that back at his home. GCAS created so many memories, not just about the Summit itself, but also the little things. Little things that I always will remember.
Before I knew it, lunch was over, and we headed over to the interview. They only had time for two Heirs, so I stepped this one out. The two who were interviewed were Aliyah and Kiran, and they did an absolutely fantastic job. I was impressed with their confidence and ease when answering the questions, and I hope it’ll inspire other kids to have the courage to speak up about their passions. When the interview ended, the Summit was coming to a close, and we decided to leave. It took me a second to say goodbye to the Moscone Center because I knew that this was an experience that would stay with me for the rest of my life, but the moment passed by, and I turned, walking away from the building.
Climate change is happening right now; right this second the planet’s climate is changing, and if you don’t take action, soon it’ll be too late to stop the damage. We owe our planet everything, so start giving back; we must save our world because, without it, we wouldn’t exist–just look around you. Soon it’ll be hard to breathe because the air will be too polluted. The weather will become warmer, colder, more erratic; hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts are already becoming more frequent, just look around you. The warnings of natural disasters will soon become normal; the news headlines that count the number of deaths, the number of homes destroyed, will soon become normal.
Christiana Figueres, former UNFCCC Executive Secretary and convener of Mission 2020, said at the Summit that “the future of the world is one that we must co-create based on radical collaboration among all of us because the consequences of either doing so or not doing so are not just for us they are for everyone;” she is so right. Don’t ignore the reality of climate change. Take a stand and make a difference, because you can do so if you can understand the power of your voice; if you can understand the strength of your actions. We are not only doing this for us but for the many generations to come who will inherit our planet–this is our duty, as an Heir, to help save our world.