LEXINGTON, Ky.—It began as a personal quest to lessen her impact on a changing environment. Now, Marcie Smith is on a global journey to challenge others to do the same—and then some. Next stop on her itinerary? Poznan, Poland, and the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.
Smith, a senior at Transylvania University, is one of 19 young people who is representing the United States at the U.N. conference, a major effort aimed at laying the foundation for the international response to global warming. She and other youth leaders were chosen after a highly competitive, national selection process by the internationally recognized SustainUS Agents of Change program, a youth network advancing sustainable development. The delegation draws from outstanding young leaders, including a Truman Scholar, a Watson Fellow, and a Fulbright Fellow.
“One of the biggest aims of the delegation is to re-engage the United States,” Smith said. “We want an international climate treaty, and we want United States leadership.”
That may seem like a pretty tall order for Smith and the others who make up the SustainUS delegation. But, she said, they are not dissuaded.
“Do I believe we can make a difference? Yes, I very, very much believe that we can,” she said. "It is ultimately the members of our generation who will be dealing with the effects of decisions made today, so youth voices must be represented at the conference. “It’s important to understand that current emissions levels are a threat to our health, our economy, and above all, our security. Moreover, the atmosphere pays no heed to sovereignty. The climate is collective. Desertification in the heart of the Africa continent, rising sea levels in the South Pacific and the melting of Glacier Bay have moral and material implications for us all.”
The U.S. delegation will have the opportunity to work on policy briefs and platforms concerning such issues as deforestation, emissions caps and land use, Smith said. A “bold, binding and just international climate treaty” is the end goal, she added.
“As a delegation, we have access to the policy makers. We will have the opportunity to hold their attention and articulate why we want change and why we want the things we are asking for,” she said.
In other words, “we want to light a fire under their britches, as my grandmother would say.”
Smith admits that she is relatively new on the environmental scene. She didn’t become interested in environmental issues until her sophomore year at Transylvania, and then it was only after viewing “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore’s film on climate change.
“I went to that film knowing nothing about climate change,” she said. “I wasn’t even sure what the film was actually about. But I was really, really powerfully moved.”
In particular, Smith was affected by the film’s central point that human consumption has benefits and costs and that those benefits and costs are “are allocated in an unfair way.”
“My consumption is contributing to this phenomenon called climate change, and that phenomenon is causing life to be very, very hard for many people around the world, frankly the people least capable of bearing this,” she said.
Wondering why people weren’t talking about the issue of climate change, Smith immediately set out to start what she considered a much-needed conversation. In her hometown of Richmond, Ky., she started talking to her family, friends and fellow church members. At Transylvania, she started the Transylvania Environmental Rights and Responsibilities Association (TERRA), which has led numerous awareness and action campaigns on climate change, coal consumption, and environmental justice.
During the 2008 winter term, she went global—traveling to Madagascar to study local environmental law and mining code modernization. And, this past summer, she completed an internship with the Institute for Environmental Security in The Hague, Netherlands.
Smith, an international relations and French double major and environmental studies minor, also lobbied at the state and federal levels for legislation on climate change and on an issue of importance to Kentuckians, mountaintop removal. She is a member of the recently formed Transylvania President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee, for which she is working to create a campus plan for climate neutrality and was instrumental in the university becoming a signatory onto the national President’s Climate Commitment.
“This is not something that other students couldn’t do. I don’t want people to be impressed by this. They should be invigorated,” Smith said of her upcoming venture to Poland.
Invigorated, Smith said, to know that everyone can make a difference when it comes to the environment.