First Person

When world leaders listened to a climate message from the rest of us

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On September 21, hundreds of thousands of activists came together for the People's Climate March in New York City to demand that government and business leaders take bold action on climate change. Photo: Coco McCabe / Oxfam America

Among the speeches at the UN Climate Summit, a mom’s poem for her daughter stood out—and got a standing ovation.

I’m not a world leader. I’m not a CEO of a big company. I’m not a famous actor. (Yet! It could still happen, right?) Despite that, I do live on this planet, and I care about its future and the people living on it.

But it’s rare to hear the voice of a regular person like me stand out from the crowd, especially on big global issues like climate change. That’s why something I watched this morning blew me away: in front of the United Nations, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, 26, shared a poem she wrote for her six-month-old daughter—and received a standing ovation.

Watch a version of this poem here:

Kathy and her family are from the Marshall Islands, located in the South Pacific and particularly at risk by the effects of climate change and climate-related disasters. And – just like the rest of the world – the poorest people in this region are hit hardest by climate change.

One of my favorite quotes is from 1963, by President Kennedy: “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

President Kennedy was talking about nuclear warfare, but his words ring true on climate change. We get one earth, and it’s our job to take care of it for our children, and our children’s children.

In her poem, Kathy makes a promise to her daughter: we won’t let you down. People around the world have stood up and said the same thing to future generations. Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of activists marched on New York City (and elsewhere) to push for bold action on climate change.

Among the speeches from heads of state, big companies, and Hollywood, Kathy’s simple and beautiful message to her daughter stood out – because it’s the message that unites us all around action on climate change.

Now we just have to live up to Kathy’s promise: We can’t let our children down.

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