Beth Sawin at UMass Lowell Climate Change Solutions for the Future We Need. Photo Credit: Climate Interactive

I’m home and I have read (well skimmed) the Paris Agreement and read lots of commentary from many smart people who have written about what the deal itself means, so I won’t add to that. (There’s a good easy to understand summary at Grist, by the way).

Instead my last ‘update from Paris’ is about .

1. Feedback. Healthy systems need timely and accurate feedback. Here our tiny Climate Interactive team has had a role since Copenhagen, a role I think we played well in Paris. The world didn’t close the emissions gap yesterday, but the gap is so clear now and so well understood that no one is leaving Paris thinking the work is over.

2. Goals. Systems steer toward goals. That’s why the inclusion of the 1.5°C goal is so important. The goal doesn’t itself change the world, our hard work and joyful collaboration does that. But the goal keeps us focused, it motivates, and 1.5 is a significant enough goal that it rules out the distractions of false and partial solutions.

3. Beliefs. About ourselves, each other, and our Earth. At one event I went to Mary Robinson spoke, and then Casey Camp Horinek, an indigenous women from Oklahoma. And Casey said: “Never did I think I’d hear the former prime minister of Ireland use the words Mother Earth.” There’s some convergence happening between worlds that used to not intersect. I felt it a year ago at the People’s Climate March, and felt it more in Paris. Jobs, health, the rights of nature, the rights of future generations, the fact that we survive together or not at all. Suddenly all of that is so obvious it’s as though we always knew it. But we didn’t. We really didn’t. (And I know it’s not universal, not nearly enough, but in Paris what connects us felt, to me, stronger than what divides us).

And so my deepest gratitude to those who, at Paris and beyond, weave the connections. The diplomats who held 200 countries together, the young people who see themselves as citizens of a planet, not nations.The indigenous people, the workers, the healers, the farmers, the city planners who are all showing up and saying, we hold a part of the solution, listen to how it looks from where we sit.

It’s messy, slow, and incomplete. It’s organic, surprising, and invigorating. Frustrating, unfair, insufficient. But most of all, not done yet, but not blocked either. With a place and an important job for each of us.


Beth is Co-Director of Climate Interactive, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington DC aimed to help people see what works to address climate change and related issues like energy, water, food, and disaster risk reduction. A biologist with a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Beth trained in system dynamics and sustainability with Donella Meadows and worked at Sustainability Institute, the research institute founded by Meadows, for 13 years. Below is her reaction to the news from Paris.