Written by Shane Hall, Media co-coordinator for the SSC delegation.
Cancun. Nicknames include: (officially) “The Glistening City,” (unofficially) “Vegas by the sea,” (a little extremely) “Sodom and Gomorrah 2.0,” and my personal epithet, “fifty ways to leave your lover.” Maybe not where you’d think the United Nations would resume high-level negotiations to curb climate change. I know I came in a bit apprehensive.
But after only a few hours, I knew it was a city of undeniable energy – energy brought about through the ever-present mash-up of Global North and Global South. Within this yin and yang framework, I see Cancun as the perfect symbolic platform to hold the UNFCCC climate talks. Climate change is, for everyone from your average Bob and Sue to your President and Prime Minister, an unbelievably complex and demanding issue to comprehend, let alone to truly understand and feel. Cancun offers, perhaps better than any other city, a perfect encapsulation of climate changes’ causes, consequences and hopes.
Here you can see towering feats of industrialization, wealthy nation profligacy, and rapacious consumption. It is a town of megalithic hotels, bottomless margaritas, 24-hour tattoo parlors and ten-dollar lobster. Underscoring this luxury is the clear economic inequality between the foreigners and the native Mexicans. This “have and have-not” inequality has played out too long and at the expense of too many. In Cancun, the injustice is all too apparent, but it is also steeped in thousands of years of history.
Cancun is also an interesting choice for its position on the Yucatan Peninsula, an area of the world known for cataclysmic climate shifts. Anthropologists have found compelling evidence that the mysterious collapse of the Yucatan-dwelling Mayan civilization was strongly affected by droughts, improper land use, and a warming climate. Sixty five million years ago, this was where the comet most paleontologists say brought an end to the dinosaurs crashed down, precipitating global cooling. The end of the terrible lizards was the fifth mass extinction in Earth’s history, killing off about 60% of all species. Today, our actions may be inciting the sixth mass extinction event in life’s four billion year experiment, jeopardizing half of the planet’s species.
Surely today’s changing climate is again affecting the Yucatan, and if these man-made changes are left unchecked, Cancun will undoubtedly suffer. Billions of dollars in tourist-driven revenue will be lost as the sea rises, reclaiming the sandbar that is now Hotel Row. The coral reefs that bring divers and migrating fish species from across the globe will face increased bleaching events. The mangroves, already beleaguered by the rapid development of the city, will be unable to abate the floods of the future sea rise.
Yet the rich culture and biodiversity of this place can only inspire hope and purpose for these negotiations and the SSC’s mission here. In this environment, climate change becomes palpable, and I am finding myself each moment more energized and dedicated to curbing climate change and promoting global adaptation to the deleterious effects we’re already feeling.