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Elegant in Cancún

Women gathered at EsMex: an alternative climate forum in Cancún to discuss REDD+ as a strategy for dealing with climate emissions. A circle of women, surrounded by yet more circles of Indigenous women and men shared their thoughts about forests, life, community and climate change.

We came in late, but like a real friend whom you have not seen for years and yet pick up where the last conversation left off, it was easy to fold into the flow of the discussion. I confess to marveling at the way people from communities who live intimately with the natural world are so…elegant. I remembered what one of my Ojibwe mentors once advised me as we sat in a ceremony: never assume because someone is quiet that they are not speaking; never assume that because someone is not moving that they are not active. Thousands of miles from the home of my mentor, I was witnessing the same dignity of people who speak truth from their hearts.

It was as if climate change jargon had been left at the door. There was no discussion of 350 ppm, MRV, GHG or CDM. But we were there to talk about REDD. And so the women spoke of their lives, their aspirations for their community and their hopes. They spoke of living well and working hard, of children and of earth. And, of course, of REDD. My friend, IATP’s Shiney Varghese, shared her thoughts on the life blood of water and women’s struggles for basic human rights all over the planet. My friend, Michele Roberts, a woman who works in the Louisiana gulf, spoke of her fears. She described life among oil refineries, and life after hurricanes and oil spills. One might have expected that rural women of the South would look with cynicism at the plight of those living in the wealthiest country of the world. But as she described the world of cancer alley, holding back her tears, others in the room were filled with compassion. We were in a room of people with no titles and no agenda. They were simply speaking their truths, but more importantly they were also hearing the truth of one another.

The session ended, and picture taking began. Bolivian women, cameras in hand, asked for a picture with the woman from the gulf. Not because she could offer them development money, but because she spoke about the reality of life. Thousands of miles from my Ojibwe mentor, I could see her smiling. For her, as with Michele, Shiney and me, hope is not in the sterility of endless point-counterpoint, international negotiations of complex legalisms. Nor is it in the abstracted movements of the North centering themselves around 350 ppm. Who among us really knows what that means? At the end of the day, we will tackle climate change when those “in charge” begin behaving like the women and men in that room: elegantly.

Dr. Cecilia Martinez is blogging from the U.N. climate talks in Cancún, Mexico. She is a senior policy fellow with the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP.

Ben Lilliston