SIOUX CENTER—Lindsay Mouw is a young woman with a mission, doing her best to mix her faith with her passion for politics and environmentalism.
This has brought the 25-year-old Sioux Center native on paths she wouldn’t have imagined.
The 2016 Dordt University graduate had the chance to participate in Conference of the Parties 25 in Madrid, Spain, which was Dec. 2-13. COP 25 is a United Nations led event, which serves a place to assess progress in dealing with climate change.
This was the first COP event she attended and her first trip to Europe. She went as part of a Christian group, Christian Climate Observers Program, that seeks to train and educate the next generation of climate activists. She was one of about 20 people who went through the program.
Her trip was sponsored through the Climate Witness Project, a part of the Office of Social Justice for the Christian Reformed Church of North America.
“It was a bit of an overwhelming experience because COP has its own language they all speak. It’s all acronyms and titles you have to slowly integrate into your vocabulary while you’re there,” Mouw said. “By the end of the week, I felt more prepared to actually be a part of it.”
Most of her time there was spent attending workshops and action-building plenaries. She and most other public attendees couldn’t be in the room for the high-level negotiations that went on, but she could observe those meetings over large screens in another room.
“The big take-away from all of COP is that it was largely a disappointment and a failure for what it was supposed to be,” Mouw said. “Most people came away frustrated and disappointed and a lot of people are questioning what the purpose of COP even is anymore. Not quite what I was hoping for.”
That’s because the purpose of the event is to build ambition among the participating countries to tackle climate change, “and that’s essentially not happening right now, especially among the highest developed and highest polluting countries,” she said.
There is plenty of enthusiasm from smaller and more undeveloped countries for taking climate action, she said, but they’re not the places where pollution and emissions need to be significantly cut.
Mouw heard testimony from people from the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu, which are threatened by rising sea levels.
“You can see the pain and brokenness in their eyes and hear it in their voices when they speak about it,” Mouw said.
She pointed to a lack of interest from the top polluting nations, including the U.S., as stagnating action and progress on climate action.
“Our lack of ambition really drove countries like China and India to push back in negotiations,” Mouw said. “Our withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has had serious consequences in accomplishing the Paris Agreement’s goals.”
President Donald Trump announced in June 2017 that the U.S. would no longer participate in the 2015 climate agreement, which was created in COP 21.
At the next COP conference, an assessment would take place to determine how countries are doing in meeting their emission reductions.
“This was the last year to make adjustments to that and to determine if we’re on track or off track,” Mouw said. “Largely, countries were not increasing their ambition to achieve those goals and we’re quite a far distance behind where we need to be to achieve those goals.”
There was also a lot of discussion at the event about a political mechanism to cover losses and damages from climate change.
“Essentially, they want a legally binding agreement for everyone to sign onto that says the polluting countries would pay reparations to countries that are affected due to loss of land or disasters, those kinds of things,” she said.
For all the disappointment that COP held for her and other like-minded attendees, there was hope from smaller groups making a difference in their communities.
“There was the U.S. Climate Alliance comprised of different states and city governments and universities that are still doing work to achieve the Paris goals,” Mouw said. “I think that’s where we need to focus right now.”
Faith and climate
She’d like to see churches become leaders on climate action.
“As Christians, we all have the understanding that God created the heavens and the earth, as Genesis states,” Mouw said. “So why shouldn’t we be the first ones to step up in the protection and care of it?”
As climate change impacts people’s lives, it also becomes an issue of loving and protecting neighbors, she said.
She was in Madrid for 10 days.
It wasn’t all work there; she also did a bit of sightseeing. In fact, her group was right across the street from the Prado Museum and they got to see some of the art there.
“There was a lot of walking around the city,” Mouw said. “The streets in downtown Madrid are beautiful. There are colorful buildings lined with balconies overflowing with plants. It’s picturesque there.”
Here in the U.S., her work continues as she pushes for political change in regards to climate change. Mouw believes most people have the same desired goal for the long-term well-being of people everywhere, but are easily overwhelmed by the size of the climate change problem.
“We just need to remember that we’re not called to do everything, but we are called to do whatever we can with what we have,” Mouw said. “We need to stop being overwhelmed and pick one thing we’re going to do and lean into that one thing to make a difference.”