As the semester wraps up, deadlines are on the mind. As bleak as it sounds, there’s no greater source for inspiration during finals than the deadline — nothing has the power to motivate, spark creativity or serve as a wake-up call quite like it. Ask the News’ humble opinion editors: They know that my tendency to miss deadlines is not unique to the end of the semester.
Today marks the official end of classes, but it is another kind of deadline, too: an international climate agreement is poised to come out of this year’s United Nations Conference on Climate Change, the negotiations in Paris that began in November. World leaders and negotiators have come together to hammer out a concrete agenda to combat global climate change, and the final version of an agreement is scheduled to be released today.
Though it might not take up a lot of the collective headspace of the undergraduate population, I’d hazard a guess that a majority of us know that climate change is an urgent issue that requires collective action. Climate change, in and of itself, gives the planet an imaginary deadline — although the stakes are much higher. To take the analogy one step further, COP21 is the world’s reading period for the finishing touches on a final paper. After speaking with some students who went to Paris over the course of the past few weeks to participate in the talks, both with Yale and through other organizations, I wanted to share some of their thoughts.
One student I spoke to expressed concerns about the voices not represented at the talks — a valid critique of any conversation concerning an issue that affects everyone. The roles of indigenous peoples or young people at earlier climate talks, for example, have historically been minimized. Only recently has the U.N. recognized the important work of indigenous peoples in mitigating climate change through land stewardship and protection. This makes it all the more troublesome that they’ve been largely absent from a number of national climate proposals. Despite my friend’s initial concerns on the inclusivity of the talks, her final prognosis was that, on the whole, the talks will produce something substantial.
Another source of optimism at COP21, another student told me, were the new strategies for climate action expressed by leaders at all levels. She cited a delegation of mayors and other regional leaders, beyond your usual prime ministers or presidents, who spoke about the role cities play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. She also discussed how the talks are more than just a platform for national leaders, but leaders of other institutions as well: businesses, NGOs, nonprofits and other partnerships. This reflects the reality that these institutions may have greater purchase in taking actionable steps against climate change than governments alone.
Among the students I spoke with, the temperature in the room (ha!) on the status of COP21 has been positive. Even if the talks weren’t perfect, it appears the results from this summit will reverberate long after the ink dries on the final agreement.
So back to the idea of deadlines. What has made COP21 unique is the high-stakes, time sensitive nature of climate change, which has forced participants to consider creative solutions and act pragmatically.
This isn’t to say that deadlines inevitably lead to progress, though — the evidence and arguments mobilized at talks like this one are the results of ongoing and iterative processes. The other evening, someone mentioned to me how they feared that dialogue on campus around race was drowning out important conversations about global issues including climate change. But these conversations are cut from the same cloth: a discussion of how people in power wield that influence unfairly. The very concrete deadline that Next Yale demanded for administrative response (Nov. 18) forced the administration to respond, and University President Peter Salovey offered a slate of proposed changes. Even with the due date having passed, the project of change remains ongoing.
That’s the impact I suspect COP21 will have — an imperfect, rigid document, but one that inspires broader outcomes. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I face deadlines of my own and smash away at my keyboard to complete my environmental studies thesis. Though my limited time may leave my paper littered with typos, perhaps the due date will force a brilliance that would remain untapped without that pressure to finish. The deadline keeps me optimistic.
Austin Bryniarski is a senior in Calhoun College. His column runs on Fridays. Contact him at email@example.com .