By Margherita Tommasini
I experience panic attacks. I already share this struggle with the people I love, so it does not really matter if now the Internet will know about it.
I sort of knew what I was getting into. Last year I attended COP21 in Paris. I did not have accreditation for the Blue Zone, but I spent the three weeks in the Ville Lumières engaging with different levels of civil society and getting a glimpse of what climate negotiations look like.
In Marrakech I was finally able to unveil the true story.
Given my history of anxiety and general depression, in early September when it was time to decide whether to join the preparatory course to attend the COP, I had asked myself whether I could have handled an unknown amount of stressors and whether it was worth it. I told myself that I could not surrender to the monsters in my head. And I went for it.
After a fairly long trans-oceanic flight and several layovers, I finally landed in Marrakech, already overwhelmed by my very loud Italian flight-mates.
It is hot in Marrakesh.
There is a lot of traffic in Marrakesh.
The street lights seem to have a different colour in Marrakesh.
I suddenly become very white in Marrakesh.
I am the different in Marrakesh.
People look at me in Marrakesh.
GoogleMaps does not really show all the little alleys in Marrakesh.
I get lost my first night in Marrakesh.
It is scary to walk alone in Marrakesh.
But surprisingly, all of my pieces are holding on together.
The days go by, constituency meetings, attempts to do networking, actions to demand our voices to be heard, actual negotiations meeting. Great, I got this! I belong here!
BOOM. Donald Trump is the new President of the United States.
Now, something big breaks. Something really big.
I am scared. I am scared of the place that I chose as my home and where I chose to be educated to be a better informed and global citizen. What hurts the most is seeing the pain of my friends. We are here to try to change the narratives of climate change, to bring positivity and climate justice to the table, and now suddenly, everything has been painted away by a very very dark brush.
My anxiety has now skyrocketed. I cannot contain myself. I feel trapped at the COP venue. Too many people, too many sounds, too many stimuli.
As I return to the riad, my pieces held together by my amazing friends, I ask myself what am I supposed to do with my feelings. What do the creatures of the COP do with their feelings? With the US election, for the first time, I saw emotions coming to the surface of the characters that animate the UNFCCC space. We were lost, we could not believe the news, we were suffering.
And then, very quickly, the COP returned to be that grey emotionless space where developed countries put the corporate interests before their historical responsibilities and the rights to equitable climate justice. Just the time for an action, to manifest against the outcome of the US election. Just the time for a flood of tears.
And it is there that I understand that actually feelings are what run this place. We break the news, photographers fight over who takes a picture of us, because we are crying. I hold my two friends, who are truly upset because of the consequence the election will have on their lives, and the photographers attack us even more. We are a perfect scene of tenderness and despair.
And there we go, we make it on some of the largest media channels. The media reports on climate change only when there are tears involved, or only on the people who can make themselves heard by being strategically loud.
The COP I have experienced is an automated machine that does not have time for feelings. It does not want activists to be loud, and it does not want them to reach media channels—with or without tears. And this narrative of “feelinglessness” becomes so dense and poignant, then we forget we are allowed to feel.
We are made believe that we do not have time for it. We are scared of feeling: if we stop “working for the climate” we will realize that we are actually screwed, that the UN spaces will not deliver the solutions we need to stay below our holy threshold of 1.5 °C. And if we stop and feel that, it will break us apart.
I realized that this narrative is very wrong. Thanks to my anxiety, I had to stop and reflect on my feelings and on my fears. And now I am empowered by them. I am still overwhelmed by social context and very loud spaces, but I found myself redefining my scope and my mission as climate activist.
Emotions are what make us human. Even more so, it is our compassion. And here is where we get the full circle: we need feelings, but more than anything we need compassion in climate change negotiations. Only in this way we will be able to save the planet.