“I speak for more than half of the world’s population. We are the silent majority…Respect the integral values of humanity. Respect the future of our descendants. Mandela said, “It always seems impossible, until it’s done.” So, distinguished delegates and governments around the world, governments of developed world, deep cuts now. Get it done!”
This was the beginning and end of Anjali Appadurai’s speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban, South Africa. The Vancouverite, who is a 3rd year student at the exclusive College of the Atlantic (COA) in Maine, was chosen to represent the UN youth constituency, which consists of youth from all over the world who are representing various organizations.
After delivering the values-driven speech about climate change and equity, Appadurai made a bold move and instead of leaving the stage, she engaged the audience in a ‘mic check,’ which was a signature trademark of the global Occupy movement. She called out “Equity now!” then waited for the crowd to respond with “Equity now!” She ended the ‘mic check’ with “Get it done!” which was echoed several times by other young delegates.
“The ‘mic check’ was a way for us to tell the world leaders: we don’t need your fancy mic in your fancy conference hall. We have our collective voices and they’re more powerful than you think. It was a pretty radical move, but much-needed in that setting and at that time,” says Appadurai.
Appadurai travelled to Durban with fellow students to represent COA’s blog project Earth in Brackets (www.earthinbrackets.org/blog) and to be an intern for Third World Network, writing policy updates on negotiations. She worked on the speech with a group of four other youths, and she was selected to deliver it.
“The speech was meant to be an impassioned statement drawing upon the frustration of our entire generation at the lack of ambitious action from our governments. We wanted to point out the fact that climate change negotiations have been going on for 20 years, but close to nothing has been done,” says Appadurai, adding “The most important message we wanted to get across was that equity is a principle that should not be compromised in the climate regime – developing and developed countries are not the same.”
Appadurai’s speech went viral on YouTube and other websites. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times called her speech “remarkable” and Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, stated Appadurai was “a hero” on Twitter.
When asked, why is climate change an issue that is important to people around the world? She answered, “Although we may not feel the effects directly in Canada, climate change is one of most imminent issues facing mankind today.”
According to Appadurai, fluctuating weather patterns brought on by global warming-induced climate change has increased the frequency of natural disasters and storms around the world. For example, as the sea level continues to rise, many small island nations like the Maldives, which is only 1.5 metres high, will be wiped out in a matter of years. In addition, the current drought in the Horn of Africa has resulted in one of the worst famines of all time, causing thousands of deaths.
“We have already ‘locked in’ a lot of climate change through our carbon emissions,” says Appadurai. “If we continue to emit the way we do, our world will continue to warm and disasters will continue to happen until much of the world’s population has been wiped out. Climate change should be viewed as a humanitarian issue, for that is what it is.”
Appadurai was born in Tamil Nadu, and immigrated to Canada when she was 6 years old. She received a scholarship of $36,000 from the BC government to attend a unique high school in the US called the United World College, which belongs to a network of 13 different schools around the world. The emphasis was to learn and live together with students from different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds.
She was awarded the Davis scholarship, a scholarship of $40,000 a year, which enabled Appadurai to attend the College of Atlantic, a small liberal arts institution with only 350 students. COA’s model is different from traditional universities, as there are no departments, few graduation requirements and each student graduates with a common degree – a Bachelor of Arts in Human Ecology (study of human interactions with our environments, from social and economic to biology and mathematics).
Human ecologists are trained to understand a problem from different viewpoints and Appadurai is specializing in development economics. “Human issues are at the core of my passion and I want to get a sense of where the inequalities lie in our global economic system and the best way to lessen these inequalities.”
She will be attending COP18 in Doha, Qatar on behalf of COA later this year, and she is currently a blogger for Earth in Brackets. She has also been involved with the Canadian Red Cross and SustainUS.
In her downtime, she enjoys escaping from reality with a good fiction book. She also loves music, playing the piano, making chocolate and salsa dancing. Appadurai’s favourite thing to do is indulge in a delectable cup of tea, while engaging in amazing conversations with interesting people.