Written for Thought Catalog. Published as Harry Potter, Climate Change and Our Own ‘Patronus’ Moment, December 9, 2015.
You all know it. That moment in the third Harry Potter book when Harry is dying, and that silver bubble that is supposed to signify his soul floats out of his body with his wand just outside his reach. The moment when all hope is gone and then suddenly, Harry sees a figure raise his wand and send a silver stag galloping across the silvery lake and the thousands of dementors all run away. No one needs a remembrall to recall how this one ends. The figure across the misty lake, the one Harry first believes to be his Father, is Harry himself. Harry with a time-turner. Harry from the future.
For the past five months, I cycled from the U.S. to Paris, France for the United Nations climate talks that began here last week. Throughout 11 countries, Morgan Curtis and I shared stories of individuals mobilizing for climate action. I decided to go on this journey because I felt culpable for the injustices in the world and because I wanted to know what real-life solutions to climate change looked like. Climate change is unbelievably complex – the roots, the effects, the solutions. I wanted to see what everyday engaged citizens were doing, and what role the U.N. climate talks would play in putting our world on a better course.
Before going on Climate Journey, I fought against the powers that be, always hoping that someday, a superhero would come down in a cape, wave a magic wand, and save the day. A superhero like the U.N. Climate Conference for example. Much like Harry, I was surrounded by dementors, my wand close by but just far enough from my grasp and similarly, I felt like all the happiness had gone from the world. Campaigns drudged on for years. Email after email. Protest after protest. Nothing seemed to change. I only seemed to be getting more tired and boy, was I good at doing what others in the climate movement had already done. Then Morgan and I flipped the time-turner…on our bicycles. But instead of going back in time, we traveled through time, through the lives of individuals in the climate movement. We took to the road, bicycling to the UN climate talks in Paris. Along the way, we sought out those witches and wizards fighting He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – those fighting fossil fuel extraction, fighting against cuts in renewable energy subsidies, and those fighting for new community food and energy systems. In Sweden, that moment from the Prisoner of Azkaban that I had read so many times came real when I met Olivia Linander. A twenty-something year old fossil-free campaigner from Gothenburg, Olivia reminded me of myself. Morgan and I sat in our lycra cycling gear at a square wooden table in her third-floor apartment and talked about what we hoped to see from the U.N. climate conference. Morgan and I couldn’t help but bring up a particularly impactful article about a coal mine occupation in Germany a few weeks previous.
Ende Gelände they called it. Here and No Further. On August 15th, 2015 over 1,500 people marched into and occupied the largest coal mine in Europe for an entire day. Production grinded to a halt.
This was one of a handful of articles that changed my life. It inspired me. I felt like I was reading history; that this moment will be looked at in retrospect as the end of the beginning of the climate movement. We were no longer just waving banners in pre-arranged police-monitored marches. We were going to the source of pollution and shutting it down. We were physically keeping fossil fuels in the ground. And Olivia? She was there. Inside the mine. On August 15th. She even had the remnants of bruises to prove it. This moment for me was like Harry’s moment of clarity while looking through the mist at his real-time self. Lying, wandless, surrounded by robed dementors about to receive the fatal “kiss,” with the final shreds of consciousness he sees what appears to be his father across the pond. The figure’s wand raises. Expecto Patronus! A silver stag explodes from the wand tip and scatters the dementors in a thousand different directions.
Before kicking off the ground on Climate Journey, I still believed our leaders carried magic wands in their pockets. That if only they would sign an international agreement for example, we could start addressing the climate crisis at the scale and speed required by science. That climate change couldn’t be as scary as scientists say it is because, you know as well as I do, we have superheroes out there. For the past few years, the climate movement felt like the second Harry. Standing with trepidation at the opposite edge of the lake watching our own demise through a thick mist, waiting anxiously for some super, all-powerful witch or wizard to save us. We know they are coming. Any minute now. Right?
Meeting Olivia helped me to dis-spell that idea. Indeed, no incantation can pull the greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, change our economic system, ensure justice, promote equity, and put the fossils back underground. (No, not even Prof. Dumbledore.) Only people can do that. And lots of them. Olivia put her body on the line to keep fossil fuels in the ground in a way I had never seen done before. And I can too.
What if, like in Harry’s case, we are the ones we have been waiting for in the climate movement. And the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris? What if this is our best chance we have had in a long time to subsume the heroes we imagine in our dreams and put our bodies on the line? What if this is our “Patronus” moment?
I know for me, come the end of the negotiations this weekend and moving into 2016, I will have my wand at the ready.