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Independent Challenge Spotlight: Climate Stories and the COP21 Conference

Morgan Curtis is about to depart on a multi-month ride from New England to Paris, arriving in time to attend the United Nations COP21 conference in December as a Youth Delegate from the United States. Along the way she will investigate and share climate stories from those she meets along the way. This is her story.

As climate change negotiators, activists, concerned citizens and policy-makers all prepare to descend on Paris this December for the twenty-first United Nations Climate Conference, I am climbing on my bicycle to join them. Taking a rather unconventional path to the conference, I will be pedaling 10,000km on my way to Paris from New England, via Atlantic Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. My project, Climate Journey, aims to share stories of climate change impacts and action from the far north in the run-up to Paris.

I start this journey as I know not what else to do. In the midst of global crisis I feel no right to be comfortable. Instead, I am heading out in the world ready to listen, to be shaken awake by the on the ground experiences and reactions of those on the front lines to climate change. I go out not in search of answers, but with a willingness to dive into trying to understand what it means to be alive in this corner of human history, to be part of a generation tasked with building a better world.

A legally-binding universal treaty is the desired outcome of the upcoming UN conference, COP 21. A treaty that will bring about action necessary for a strong chance of staying within 2 degC of human-induced global warming, agreed upon by the world’s governments as a safe upper limit for climate change. The Obama administration has submitted our intention to reduce U.S. carbon emissions 26-28% by 2020, as compared with 2005. Do I believe that a treaty from Paris will bring about all the action we need for a just, sustainable and equitable future? I have to say, less so.

Yet, am I hopeful for climate action in 2015? Certainly. As we move towards Paris we find ourselves in the midst of a movement moment, one where regular people around the world are joining together and taking meaningful action on climate change. Mobilizing to stop fossil energy projects, lobbying their decision makers, divesting their institutions from fossil fuels and coming together to form the community needed to weather the storms of this planetary crisis.

I am joined by Garrett Blad, a canvas-painting, word-mashing, collage-snipping climate justice activist hailing from North Liberty, a small country town in northwest Indiana. We start bicycling in the hopes that this story, our story, the stories of those we meet and the places we visit, will motivate others to join the growing community of those of us who believe in a better future. We will simultaneously be connecting with hundreds of people in countries throughout the North Atlantic, working towards the most effective possible grassroots mobilization through Paris and beyond. On arrival in Paris we will be inside the negotiation halls, working as youth delegates with twenty other young people from across the United States with SustainUS. Do we have any idea what is about to happen? No, thankfully. I somehow have faith that climate action in 2015 will exceed all expectations.

About Morgan Curtis: Morgan is the Alumni Coordinator for Divest Dartmouth, the campaign for Dartmouth College to divest from fossil fuels, as well as the Media Lead for the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund. She spent the past year as the Sustainability Fellow at Chewonki Semester School, teaching environmental issues and renewable energy solutions to high-school juniors in a four immersive experiential education program. She grew up in the UK, and graduated from Dartmouth College with an engineering degree in 2014.

About Garrett Blad: Garrett graduated in May 2015 from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Sustainable Policy and Environmental Science. There, he co-founded and led Fossil Free ND, which campaigns for Notre Dame to divest its endowment from fossil fuels. He was born, raised, and educated in northwest Indiana.

You can follow along with their progress at You can donate to support their Independent Challenge fundraising for on their event page. They also welcome anyone to join them along their route, so be sure to reach out through their website.