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Transy senior speaks before the U.N. session in Poland

Marcie SmithSenior Marcie Smith attended the United Nation’s Climate Change negotiations in Poznana, Poland, in December as a youth delegate, thinking she would be a lobbyist of sorts, but quickly learned her skills would be put to use in other, more visible, ways.

Smith wound up giving a speech on deforestation policy and indigenous rights to the negotiation’s final session, and also consulted with other countries in attendance. She was there as one of 20 U.S. students who were part of an international youth delegation sponsored by SustainUS, a nonprofit organization for young people interested in advancing sustainable development and youth empowerment at the policymaking and grassroots levels. She is one of SustainUS’s experts on the topics covered in her speech.

“The people who articulate the U.S. position are from the State Department, so it’s useless to lobby them—they don’t make policy,” Smith said.

Instead, in addition to speaking before the assembled delegation, she served as the eyes and ears of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was not able to send enough delegates to Poland to cover all the meetings and keep up with the workload.

Poznana was critical, Smith said, as a strong and binding global climate agreement must be reached by next year’s conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. That agreement will be based on the policy discussions, science, and non-governmental organization input that occurred this year.

Together, the SustainUS delegates contributed an estimated 2,200 hours of volunteer service at the conference and played a vital role in calling for American leadership on a bold and just international climate treaty with science-based targets.

Smith and the rest of the international youth are demanding that the outcome of the talks be anchored by the principle that any global climate treaty must safeguard the survival of all countries and peoples.

“Survival is non-negotiable,” she said.

She pointed out that the ultimate goal is not simply to solve climate change.

“Climate change is a symptom of a much more fundamental problem with the balance of power in the world,” she said. “What we want is more of a paradigm shift. We want to restore balance in both the human community and the ecological community.”

Smith said she would classify what she saw in Poland as “qualitative success.”

“We want to see U.S. leadership,” she said. “The U.S. has been a problem child rather than a partner in a productive way. What we saw coming out of Poznana is that steps were taken, but we would have liked to have seen more courageous steps.”

The real victory, she said, was in the energy in the youth climate movement. Five hundred youth from 55 countries attended the conference.

“We’re growing steadily,” she said.

In February, Smith joined over 10,000 young people for Powershift 2009 in Washington D.C. The event had the goal of holding elected officials accountable for rebuilding the economy and reclaiming the future through bold climate and clean energy policy.

“We weren’t sure what to expect in Poland. We could have used a stronger stateside network,” she said. “Now we have a better grasp on what our needs will be in Copenhagen, and Powershift was a great opportunity to grow and hone that infrastructure.”

Smith said she feels invigorated. SustainUS Climate Program Coordinator Kendra Kallevig said, “Marcie was definitely one of our most exciting delegates.”

Smith, from Richmond, Ky., is an international relations and French double major and environmental studies minor. She is a member of the recently formed Sustainability Advisory Committee at Transylvania, for which she is working to create a campus plan for climate neutrality.

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