On the road to Copenhagen

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Climate activist confronts global warming

By Roger Snodgrass

For many people concerned about the fate of the planet, going where the action is means one place right now.

A graduate of Los Alamos High School in 2005 and now a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., Marielle Remillard is about to join a group of her peers from across the country in a visit to Denmark in December.

It’s already forced her into new territory.

“On Friday, I did something I’ve never done before,” she wrote in a blog recently. “I attended a meeting at my senator’s office.”

Remillard is working on a master’s degree in environmental engineering, but she is spending a lot of time these days preparing for a trip to the United Nations Climate Change Negotiations in Copenhagen.

“I’m a scientist and mathematician and would much rather be discussing enzymatic pathways or solving difficult integrals than discussing politics,” she said. “Yet when it comes to the issue of climate change, science has its limitations.  It can help solve immediate problems but without stronger climate policy, better science will not be economically viable to produce the positive changes our future generations depend upon.”

So, she figured she’d drop over to Washington and talk to the policy makers.

Her first effort was not quite what she expected. It took six weeks to schedule a meeting. She tried to arrange a moment with both senators from New Mexico. Sen. Bingaman’s office didn’t respond and Sen. Udall’s office fired back a form letter after she filled out an online request.

She tried Udall’s office again, and they tried to send her back to the online request. When she called them on the runaround, they apologized and scheduled a meeting with the senator.

“I can’t tell you how excited I was about the meeting,” Remillard recalled. Unfortunately, the senator had to cancel and her 15-minute meeting took place with a staffer.

A little disappointed, Remillard took it

philosophically. She knew that Udall was extremely busy and sympathetic on the issue. She used her time to call for “the strongest possible short-term carbon reductions and improved funding for international aid and climate adaptation.”

She left with the feeling that she had her chance to make a difference.

Remillard is one of a group of 26 students competitively chosen to participate in a program called SustainUS Agents of Change. With most of their funding from grassroots donations, she said, they are trying to lobby the U.S. Senate to pass clean energy legislation before the Copenhagen conference and then tap that momentum to push for a strong climate change agreement in Denmark.

Remillard is a native New Mexican with unimpeachable credentials.

“I attended Mountain Elementary School, learned to ski at Pajarito Ski Area to the swim at the ‘Blue Whale’ (back when the pool exterior was still blue),” she wrote in a recent e-mail. “I survived the Cerro Grande Fire, enjoyed my share of Chili Works burritos and joined the excitement when a cinema returned to Los Alamos.”

In the four years since graduating, she has lived in Texas, Colarado, Alaska, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

Lately, she said in a post on her blog last week, “I’ve been focusing my efforts to help prepare the youth statement on adaptation policy. (I’d love to hear people’s input if they have any ideas or concerns surrounding climate adaptation.)”

Climate adaptation – the idea that no matter what comes out of the international treaty process, the global community must prepare for some difficult consequences – was summed up in a recent speech by Mohamed Nassheed, the President of the low-lying islands of the Maldives and chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). AOSIS adopted a resolution recently calling for a new climate pact that ensures global warming be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“If things go business as usual, we will not live,” Nassheed said at the U.N. climate summit in September “We will die. Our country will not exist.”