Editor’s note: On Nov 30, government officials and global citizens from around the world will come together in Paris, France, to try to finalize an agreement on addressing the existential threat of global warming. The goals of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, are to craft an international agreement to combat climate change (keep global warming below 2 degrees C) and accelerate the transition to low-carbon societies and economies.

This is the second of a series of guest-blog posts by Gary Payton of Sandpoint, ID, an active ICL member and the 2015 recipient of the Keith and Pat Axline Award for Environmental Activism, ICL’s highest award for activism. Gary is traveling to Paris as part of the delegation from the Presbyterian Church (USA), an historic mainline Protestant denomination. While in Paris, Gary will regularly post reflections on this website on the progress, challenges and spirit of COP21.  

When Alec and Tessa, my 7- and 4-year-old grandchildren, jump to a stump, spread their arms and shout, "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees," I know I’ve done something right. From bedtime stories to mountain hikes, to the "critter book" we’ve made filled with picture postcards of the animals and birds of the Rockies annotated with dates when we’ve seen them together, it is all about instilling values to protect the environment.

Paris, COP21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), is about building an international framework to reduce carbon pollution-it’s the same thing, but on a grand scale. It’s about protecting the environment. As a grandfather, I see the direct line from teaching "Pack it in. Pack it out," so PBJ wrappers aren’t left by the trail and being present in France to urge national negotiators to agree to a framework keeping warming below 2 degrees C.

When President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, he used stark, scientifically grounded language. He said, "…if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky."

The stark image of "inhospitable" and "uninhabitable" underscores the urgency of COP21. But I’m living into my seventh decade. This is no longer about me, it’s about Alec and Tessa and the planet they and their grandchildren will inhabit. It’s about Zukile and Raeesa in South Africa who can no longer farm the land of their ancestors due to persistent drought. It’s about Woong and Haein on the Pacific island nation of Kiribati who will likely relocate to a distant land as their home is washed over from rising seas. It’s about Sayid and Amena growing up in Sweden far from their roots in Syria, having being pushed out of their homeland by drought and war. It is all about those born and yet to be born who will live out their lives through 2025, and 2050, and 2075, and on into the next centuries.

Even as I prepare to fly to Paris, I recognize the selfish quality of this reflection. I’ve shared thoughts of my grandchildren and of other children. In short, I have spoken of human beings. Yet  the impacts of climate change are near universal on living things. We know about polar bears. We know of warmer winters, beetle-killed forests, and wildfire. We’re learning about salmon and their demise in the warming rivers of the Northwest. No one has told the global, multi-species story better than Elizabeth Kolbert in her Pulitzer prize-winning, The Sixth Extinction.

Paris still lies ahead. As I finish packing, I’m ever mindful of terrorist attacks and pain in "the City of Light." Yet, images of Alec and Tessa and the children of my friends in the Idaho Conservation League are in my head. It is for them and all creatures that COP21 is organized. My prayer is for today’s negotiators that they never lose sight of the impact of climate change on tomorrow’s living beings.

– Gary Payton

Read Gary’s first post.