(2) Environmental Diplomacy Led Me to Think Bigger

In my junior year at Brandeis University, I took a class called Atmospheric Civics and Diplomacy with Professor Chester. In part, the class taught practical information about environmental pollutants and the players involved in solving international environmental disasters. We learned about different types of pollutants, and we became familiar with the relevant NGOs, international bodies, and governmental organizations that were and are involved in climate advocacy.

But we also learned about the difficulties and intricacies of international diplomacy and advocacy relating to environmental problems. This was the part of the class I was most fascinated by, and that felt most unique compared to other classes I have taken.

I specifically remember one important lesson that was taught in relation to climate advocacy and cooperation. It’s one of those issues that transcend borders entirely. That is to say, if one country is having a negative effect on the climate, it is rarely self-contained within that country. It will spill over into the rest of the world.

This creates a tricky diplomatic situation. While there is a principle of sovereignty within a country’s borders (that is to say, a country is mostly allowed to do what they want within their own country) there is also an idea that countries have an obligation to their neighbors and the international community to not cause a problem for them, either.

What this ends up meaning, however, is that any agreement about fixing the climate necessarily needs everyone to agree, since everyone on the planet is involved. Practically speaking, diplomacy will only succeed if there is a universally agreed-to set of environmental regulations. Because it is so hard to get every country in the world to agree to anything, oftentimes negotiations fall through and instead nothing is done. It’s sort of a reverse tragedy of the commons.

This informs my work and my thinking about Consensus because it demonstrates the importance of negotiation skills in the next twenty or so years, and into the future. Climate change is an existential threat, and we need to find a way to reach some global commitments. Isolating from the rest of the world simply is not an option.

I am learning more through my work in Consensus about conflict resolution and negotiation strategies. This is the bedrock that my knowledge base is building on. But also, with my role specifically, I am finding ways to communicate these sometimes complicated topics in a way that educates people while keeping them engaged. I think that this is a focus that can have great benefit on a smaller scale for individuals facing problems in their lives or businesses needing to resolve issues. Before the class with Professor Chester, I would have thought of these smaller-scale issues as being the area in which conflict resolution is most important and effective. I now am also looking and thinking bigger to the massive global implications of having leaders and experts in this field.