Do you know of the five stages of grief? When it comes to the climate crisis, I am close to having gone through all of them: years ago I could not believe how bad Mother Earth has been affected by how humans are treating her. I thought it can't be as bad as the scientists say: denial.
When I was eventually confronted with the facts and with undeniable proof, I got angry. Really angry. I live in Austria and in the last 15 years, I did not have a white Christmas anymore. As a child, Christmas and snow went hand-in-hand. How could the generation of my parents or the generation of my grandparents ignore this? How could they have gone on living their luxurious lifestyle without thinking of the consequences? How is that fair? Anger.
When in November 2018 the Global Climate Report showed, if we change our way of living now, we might be able to save what is left of planet Earth, this made me realize I can no longer be angry and see who is at fault, I need to do something. I need to change my way of living, even if it is not fair. I stopped eating meat, reduced my waste and my plane travels. I became a climatarian: bargain.
When I arrived at COP25 last week I realized I reached the fourth stage of grief: depression. On one hand, I was impressed by the youth movement. An impressive amount of young people were all very angry and demanding to be heard. On the other hand, the older generation keeps saying that youth are important, that they need to be heard, that they are our future, but the youth are not allowed to have a vote. In only 18% of the texts discussed at COP the words "youth and children" are included and only 35% of the texts include the word “education.”
Most of the youth at COP seemed aware of their privileged position to be even present. The majority of them were paying for their own travel, accommodations, and food while taking a week or even two off from school, university or work. The representation of youth was not in line with those most affected by the climate crisis.
The number of indigenous people and the island states present at COP and at the negotiation tables was beautiful to see, however, over the week it slowly dawned on me that sweet taste has a bitter aftertaste. The idea of inviting them to the COP is to learn from indigenous people, yet there was little to nothing being done in return. A "colonization of ideas" was happening, where the parties wanted to learn from them but not help in return. Developed countries are hesitant or silent about helping out in the negotiations.
COP25 consisted of negotiations between parties but also offered many different side events from various NGOs. Most of them talked about the state that we are in, how it is affecting people and peoples, and what will happen if we do not change. This increased my grief even more.
I slowly but surely became hopeless. Not even my faith gave me hope anymore. I was grieving and I was afraid of reaching the fifth stage: acceptance. I do not want to accept the climate crisis. I want to be angry, I want to bargain, I want to take action. I do not want to be hopeless. I want to hope again.
At COP25 I had the privilege to talk to some of the older generations who have been at every single COP since they started 25 years ago. They told me that, as nonproductive and tiring it seems, they are glad that the COP exists. So many things have been achieved in the last 25 years. This older generation is full of hope, especially after seeing the youth movements happening in the last year. I see the hope. And I am longing for it and working for it. The COP inspired me to become more active in my local environment and join a local climate NGO. I still do not see a lot of hope, but I am hoping for hope.
Maria Sonnleithner is a member of the Executive Committee for the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe for the period of 2019-2021. She has also served on many other local, national and international boards, primarily for the United Methodist Church. Her primary focus is on youth work and engagement on local, national and international levels. When she is not spending time with the church, she works as a high school teacher for history and English as well as studying for a master’s degree in ethics and religious education.