Julianne (left) with Global Exchange’s Community Rights Director Shannon Biggs

The following post was written by Global Exchange intern Julianne Stelmaszyk:

As one of the many interns who has passed through the doors of Global Exchange, I experienced more than I expected while working there.

I had the opportunity to work on an upcoming book about the Rights of Nature with leaders and activists from around the world, calling for a completely new paradigm in humankind’s relationship with nature.

I was able to read, edit, and write about this concept and when my colleagues invited me to join them in Cancun for the COP16 UN climate negotiations, I was excited to be a part of the movement for climate justice and the Rights of Mother Earth.

As a student of Environmental Studies, in class we talk a lot about solutions to climate change, particularly the United Nations and its ability to bring collective action to problems and crisis’ at the global level.  Being someone who has only learned about the “problems of the world” when I got to college, the past few years have been a wake-up call for me.  I began to think about working with an international NGO or government where I could make a change.

Working at Global Exchange opened my eyes to another side of the environmental movement that is more than just carbon trading and buying green. Going to Cancun for the climate negotiations allowed me to make deeper connections to the work I have been doing in the office.

Panel during COP16

Before Cancun, I saw these conferences as a viable solution to climate change, but after being there I’m not so sure.  The Moon Palace, where the negotiations took place, was a good 30 minute drive away from the side events held for grassroots organizations. In Cancun, we split our time between two spaces that held panels and workshops on everything from indigenous women’s rights to the truths about REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  The negotiations were spread out all over Cancun which hindered the potential opportunity for progress.

Activists marching in Cancun

There I was, amongst the world’s top activists who are making change in communities across the globe;  Maude Barlow, Tom Goldtooth, Bill McKibben, and thousands of informed indigenous people who know what is best for their land, but because the events were so sprawled out it was challenging for activists to fully participate.  Informative panels were held at the exact same time a few blocks away from each other. So many people came bursting with ideas and solutions, yet no one could participate in them, let alone those at the Moon Palace.

Aside from the disorganization, there was still a positive outcome in the fact that activists from around the world were gathering for a united cause.  On the day before I flew home, we all marched in solidarity with thousands of activists and indigenous people towards the Moon Palace and were greeted with a wall of Federales.  Then we gathered to hear people speaking on the change that needs to be made inside the negotiations and how the indigenous voices must be heard.  It was inspirational to be walking along side people from all over the world for the same cause.

My experience at the conference made me realize how the environmental movement is actually being capitalized…how carbon markets like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) only serve as another means to profit, another market to buy and sell while fueling the effects of climate change on vulnerable communities.  I am grateful that I was able to participate in such a movement and to stand alongside people from all walks of life in solidarity to demand change. I look forward to sharing my newly gained knowledge from my time at Global Exchange and the Cancun negotiations at my university back in Boston.