Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I am not my friend Christiana Figueres

I met Christiana Figueres when I was about 22 years old.  She was just starting to work on climate change, as was I.  She was struggling to found a non-profit, the Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas, and I was working on the US pilot program for carbon offsets at the US Department of Energy.  I remember she and her partner in the venture were maxing out their credit cards to cover costs.

Her brother, Jose Maria Figueres, was then the President of Costa Rica, and he announced wanted to start a constructive collaboration with the US government on climate change.  My friend Aimee Christensen and I, both young and wonderfully naive, sat down and decided to write a bilateral agreement.  Since we weren't lawyers and had never written an agreement before, we looked at previous agreements for language hints.
"Look, each paragraph starts with whereas.  Let's start each paragraph with whereas."
From this inauspicious beginning we drafted a statement of intent that was eventually signed by President Figueres and then-Vice President Al Gore, at the White House.

A couple of years later Christiana and I were both in Chile for a conference we had organized for the pilot carbon offsets program.
It was also my birthday, and Christiana took me to her favorite Chilean fortune-teller.  My Spanish still wasn't good enough for me to really understand her, but I SO appreciated Christiana's intention to share something special with me.  She also gave me a small stone box with a dove carved on the front that I still use to hold earrings.

I liked Christiana because she was real.  You could feel that she was real.  She had passion and also compassion.

I thought we would be working together, one way or another, for years.   I thought we would both do Big Things.

If you've read any of this blog, you know this was not to be.

Christiana is now the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which means she is in charge of the ENTIRE international negotiations process.  WOW.

I have been working to accept that I am not like Christiana, that I am not doing, nor will I be doing, Big Things on the same scale.  Or in the same way.  I cry sometimes, I want so badly to still be part of that world.  I wish we were colleagues still.  I miss it.

Today I cried because SHE cried, while talking to a group of young women activists at the negotiations in Cancun.  I can't believe what a hard job she has, and I'm so thankful she is doing it.  Regardless of the outcome, over which she has little control, I am thankful she is there.  Someone who can still cry for what our leaders are unwilling to do.

The blog wonkroom reported on the meeting.  Here is what Christiana said:

"It’s you. It’s the next generation. Look: We’re doing this but this has nothing to do with us. It’s all about you. It’s all about you. We’re the ones that have caused the problem but you’re the ones that are going to have to pay for it, right? The fact is, I’m the mother of two women about your age, and I realized many years ago that I had inherited a planet that was a diminished planet. And that if I didn’t do something about it, my daughters would grow up in a planet that had been severely diminished by what we’re doing. And I just can’t look at my daughters in the eyes and not do whatever I can.
So, it’s you. It’s about the kind of planet that you’re going to have. It’s honestly not my planet. It’s yours, okay? We borrowed it from you for a few minutes. But you will take it over very soon, because it’s yours. And you’re going to have to give it over to your children.
Honestly, there’s no perfect job here, okay? Nothing that we are going to do in Cancun is going to be perfect. Don’t expect perfection. Nothing is going to be highly ambitious. Nothing. Everything here is going to be one step, and everything is going to be insufficient. But it is the best that this group of people in these circumstances, with these political constraints, in this economic environment, can do for the time being. And as soon as this finishes we have to start pushing for the next step. And so it goes. But each one of us that is here has the moral responsibility to do the absolute best that we can at that moment under those circumstances. So what inspires me? It’s you."

Gratitude is healthy

One of my best friends, Yael Flusberg, recently posted some potent wisdom about gratitude on her blog.  She writes about her daily practice of making a list of things for which she is grateful.  And, as she notes, not in a cheesy way.  Even the messy stuff:

“I did not curse out so-and-so when she suggested I do XYZ, although internally I wanted to go ballistic on her.”

Yael is also an amazing poet, as you will discover when you read her post.

She inspired me to make my own list this morning:

12/7/10 9:29 AM

·      I am grateful for:

  • ·      Coffee, even when it’s not the best coffee
  • ·      A warm butane heater on a cold Barcelona morning
  • ·      Desiree and Axel, who have become my friends during the two weeks they’ve opened their home to us.  For the funny videos we've made, and all the laughter we've shared.
  • ·      Having sufficient traction and stability to totter and then right myself when stressful situations arise.  As opposed to falling over and getting sucked under for days.
  • ·      Finding a studio to rent yesterday.  It has a big window, a wood floor, and open space with lots of other artists in the building, but not on top of me.  It’s in a fun neighborhood, not too hard to get to from our (hopefully) new house. And it’s cheap, by Barcelona standards.  I have a place to work!!!
  • ·      Yael, who makes a daily gratitude list and who intervened helpfully in a stupid, repetitive Hirst family pattern (in which I am also a guilty party)
  •    And if I'm going to be honest, I'm also grateful that, with the ongoing email help of my psychiatrist, I've been able to achieve a modicum of psycho-chemical balance in my brain.  I know all the subtle and dramatic signs that I'm doing better - 
    •    that I am even capable of being somewhat social, 
    •    that I'm sufficiently relaxed to let the lighter parts of me show. 
    •      That I am sleeping OK most of the time.  
    •    That I'm thinking about living, not dying.  
    •    That I feel confident enough to start making plans, and 
    •        that I'm stable enough to follow through on most of them.  
    •     That I can be more gentle with myself when I still can't        do or be everything I wish for. 
    •        I don't give all the credit to the pills, but without them I lack the traction to do the work.  I may hate this fact, pero es lo que hay - that's how it is.

   Thank you Yael, for this exercise.  It sounds so obvious, but it made me realize how much time I spend focussing on the negative.  And how much energy I get from at least acknowledging the positive.
what my dog Benedicto is grateful for... illustration by Raquel