Write it down anyways

I just got back from Bonn, where I’d been reporting for a few weeks on climate negotiations alongside some of the smartest, kindest people I know. This was—for those of you not desperately following climate negotiations, and who could blame you?—the 50th meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies of the UNFCCC. Think of it as the COP’s hangover / party planning committee, and for those who don’t know what a COP is, think of it like the kind of climate conference Dante might plan in some live-webcast version of the Divine Comedy.

Photo by Anju Sharma. (The camera is Kiara Worth’s.)

Photo by Anju Sharma. (The camera is Kiara Worth’s.)

You can read more about what happened here, but the brief bit is: not a heck of a lot, which could either be fine or worrying, depending on where you’re at and how much you care about the technical details of the Paris Agreement.

Is the work I do useful? I worry a lot about this whenever I’m coming back from these conferences, tired and hungry and doubting myself. Should I be writing about these political processes or should I be a part of them? What’s the point of the observer when the thing that the observer produces is—as W.H. Auden hammers home—just something that “survives, / A way of happening, a mouth” ?

The truth is that I do this because it’s one of the great privileges of my life: every few months, I get to stuff a suit into a backpack and ride the train to go work with some of the smartest, kindest, wisest people I know, and our job is to weave something wearable out of the mess of political, scientific, diplomatic threads. It’ll never be complete, but it becomes—for me, at least—a way of telling the story of how some people are reacting to the climate crisis; and from that story, we can be reassured, or scared, or driven to act.

And I can help hold this strange, amorphous process to account, in a world where no one feels accountable to anyone and the thought of future generations seems so close to our language and so far from our actions. Someone has to get this down. Doubts and all, it’s an honour to be one of the scribblers.

I was so frustrated on one of those conference days: unable to attribute certain comments to a certain person, even thought they were inflammatory, destructive, dismissive of the vulnerable. Scared that it was pointless. “Write it down, get it in the record,” a friend told me when I raged at her. “It’ll be evidence someday.” Which is not enough, of course, never enough; but useful. If nothing else, the work might be useful.

The summary we produced for IISD Reporting Services is available here.