LEXINGTON, Ky.—The two weeks that Transylvania University student Lauralee Crain spent as a delegate to the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last month was an “emotional roller coaster” that she won’t soon forget.
“I was excited, frustrated, built up and torn down,” said Crain, a senior from Flemingsburg and one of only 18 youth leaders nationwide chosen to represent the Sierra Student Coalition at the conference Dec. 7-18.
But, she added, “I see the experience as something that has changed me forever.”
The conference, attended by many of the world’s top leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, was the much-anticipated attempt to forge agreement among industrialized nations to curb emissions of pollutants and help developing nations curtail their greenhouse gas emissions. Although they did not come away with a binding agreement, participants for the first time acknowledged that climate change was a real problem that needed to be addressed.
For her part, Crain is hopeful that she and the many other young people who were on hand, including 2009 Transy graduate Marcie Smith – helped change the way the world views climate change and promoted the continued need for a “bold and just” climate treaty among nations.
“Our role, on the broader scale, was to represent world youth, American youth and to remind the world leaders that their decisions today will affect us when they’re gone,” Crain said.
In addition to attending meetings, watching negotiating sessions, blogging about her experiences and participating in daily briefings by the U.S. negotiators, Crain had the opportunity to attend demonstrations and other activities to call attention to climate issues. One such event, a 6K march, involved 30,000 people from “all walks of life and of every age” marching in support of a global climate agreement.
“The march solidified the seriousness and the necessity of climate justice,” she said.
Crain also had the opportunity to meet and discuss topics with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. A highlight for the young activist came when she was able to ask Salazar a question about green energy efforts in Appalachia.
“I have had a lot of time to reflect about Copenhagen,” she said. “Now I feel like a legitimate and important part of the negotiations.”
Crain has been involved in environmental causes since joining the Transylvania Environmental Rights and Responsibilities Alliance at age 19. But the roots of her activism can be traced to her parents and grandparents, who cultivated a belief in being good stewards of the earth.
The anthropology major has also been involved in a variety of other efforts, including serving on the college’s sustainability committee. She credits Transy graduate Smith with helping her develop into a campus leader, “which put me on the fast track to national and global activism.”
“Climate justice means so much to all of us that the stakes are too high to not get involved on the deepest of levels,” she said.