At the start of 2020, freshly moved to Scotland, I emailed the organization of COP26 with an inquiry for how to get a ticket. Sitting at the bus station in Glasgow, sheltered from the heavy rain after an inspiring talk about the UN Sustainability Goals project at Strathclyde Business School, I was feeling optimistic and curious. I held my notebook with the notes from the lecture as if I were holding precious ancient wisdom.
I waited for weeks. I never had a reply. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, COP26 Glasgow was canceled. For a while, it really didn’t look like it was going to happen – let alone me be anywhere near it. I was crestfallen.
But it did happen. And I did get a ticket. I embraced SCCAN’s COP26 projects with juvenile enthusiasm. I really wanted to be at the conference. Unlike many of my friends at SCCAN who have been involved in and working in the field for years, this would be my first COP. I will admit, I romanticized it. For months I innocently imagined COP as a gathering of people from all over the world who shared not only concerns but ideas and visions for a truly more sustainable human life on Earth. A sort of Sci-Fi-esque ultimate task force moment, the conflicting powers of the Galaxy coming together to defeat one common enemy.
After months of anticipation and hard work with amazing people, my hopes were partially shattered on the first days of the talks. It was not just because I was watching the negotiations from the screen – it really felt like a fiction. As I dragged a suitcase with broken wheels in and out of buses on my way to Glasgow, I really couldn’t see how me being there would have any impact on the lives of anyone. But my suitcase was filled with exhibition materials that our members had sent through the last months. They were counting on me to bring their stories to Glasgow the next day, no matter how many people SCCAN could get to listen to them in the middle of the noise.
I looked around suspiciously. The banners hanging around Glasgow’s lampposts read “TOGETHER FOR OUR PLANET”. I wondered where these banners would go at the end of the conference. Landfill? Would they be reutilized at the next COP, changing UK and Italy for an African country with “TOGETHER FOR OUR PLANET AGAIN”? I looked at all the empty vague general sustainability-themed slogans pasted on the showcase of stores that are well-known for their unsustainable practices. I arrived at the Glasgow Science Centre very early in the morning, the building that a year ago I held in my mind as an almost mystical and sacred place for this gathering. I walked in half-defeated, dragging my broken wheelie bag behind me.
I had been there before that week. I listened to incredible talks by people who I would follow in the dark blindfolded, I was moved by the stories of indigenous activists, I learned so much and met so many fellow international eco-warriors in all colours, forms and shapes. But I couldn’t shake up the sadness when I walked around the stands of Big Tech and Big Business, shining with the sanitized minimalistic design of an expensive art gallery. With its large screens, giant plastic props, and plastic plants, framing the sleekest tablets and the occasional well-dressed staff member. I felt a bit embarrassed as I dragged the broken suitcase with precious human stories inside towards the community groups’ area. I felt small and insignificant. I felt alone.
And then something amazing happened.
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