Today, Heads of States delivered their opening remarks as COP21 launched in Paris. I sat in a room of eager listeners as President Obama spoke about the urgency of the climate crisis, the need for collective action, and the kind of world that we leave to today’s youth. Overall, I was impressed with his strength and commitment. His eyebrows were furrowed, almost as if he was exhausted of having this conversation over and over again.

One phrase that he used stood out to me. He called for COP21 to produce an “enduring framework for human progress.”  I suddenly saw humanity continuing its evolution at warp speed, as if addressing climate change is a natural part of our growth as civilization. This struck as me odd. Is a climate treaty “human progress?” It represents progress for our work on the climate issue. But I think of it more as surgery for humanity, healing the hurt of unintended consequences, intervening, fixing mistakes.

Wouldn’t the real progress be to understand the roots of the climate crisis and ensure that humanity never repeats a ravaging of the Earth and its people? I had a visceral reaction to Obama’s phrase because it frightened me that society will march forward without reflecting on the systems and behaviors that created the climate crisis. If we do not reflect, then we are prone to create destructive industries that take advantage of life and love. Instead of Big Oil, what if we have Big Solar? What if renewable energy companies repeat patterns of the fossil fuel economy and disregard the well-being of communities for the sake of energy and profit?

This moment in history provides us with the opportunity to understand the past and become aware in the present and the future. We have a chance to think about our behavior as human beings and the structures that we create as result of our nature.  Progressive movements often talk about this kind of awareness and sense of human justice in a better future. But if we relegate these values to the future, then they will never exist in the present. Today, in this moment, we can create change. I call this the ‘radical now.’

The possibility of reflection and intentionality lies in each and every one of us. It’s about waving to the person who lets you cross the street. It’s about empathy in our campaigning. It’s about awareness of our being. That is the real framework of human progress.

About Chloe Maxmin

Chloe Maxmin is a recent graduate of Harvard College. She became a climate activist at 12, later forming the Climate Action Club in high school and galvanizing a grassroots movement in her community. At Harvard, she co-founded Divest Harvard and led the campaign for two years, during which time Divest Harvard grew from group of 3 into a movement of over 70,000 people. Chloe also founded First Here, Then Everywhere to empower youth climate activists. She has received national and international recognition for her activism, including being named a “Green Hero” by Rolling Stone, receiving the Brower Youth Award, and appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher. She writes for The Nation and other media outlets. For more information, visit www.firstheretheneverywhere.org, and follow her on Twitter at @chloemaxmin.

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