This post by Julie Raymond is part a series from the members of the AAA delegation at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.
COP23 takes place at the World Conference Center adjacent to the U.N. campus in Bonn, Germany. The city of Bonn is remarkably beautiful. Near the accommodation of the AAA’s delegation there is a beautiful flower garden about 100 yards long tended by a very thin, frail-looking elderly man. His slight frame is drowned in the oversized Wranglers he wears cinched to his waste by a thick leather belt. The gardener shuffles along in heavy leather shoes and has a hint of white hair like a silver halo around the bottom of his stocking cap. For balance, he half leans on a silver suitcase with four wheels that clatter along the cobbled path parallel to the garden. When he pauses, he stoops over to pull open the snapped lever closure on the suitcase, revealing a selection of garden tools and gloves inside. The gardener’s tenacity and clever solutions provoke a smile in me; I appreciate the determination of this man to grow flowers rather than easier paths that wouldn’t require such ingenuity or trips out into the rainy cold.
I first saw the gardener in the spring of 2017 while walking daily to the UN campus. The UN logo is visible in the building in the background of the garden. I noticed then that the gardener didn’t strip last year’s fallen leaves out of the awakening garden, rather he cleared the soil just enough to plant something new and to tidy the scene. The old leaves would fertilize the new growth as they decay. The experienced gardener knows decay has a purpose, new life comes from what once was.
Perhaps it’s a mistake to presume that staying home in a warm house, with slippers and hot tea constantly at the ready is idyllic. What would his life be like without challenges, without ingenuity, problem-solving, and giving? Without risk? What happens if we have too much safety? Too much careful handling? Maybe, the drizzle, the cold, the aching back when he’s done gardening is evidence that he is the architect of his living public monument, the garden? The rush of fresh air in his lungs when he steps outside, the sound of his big black leather shoes shuffling along the path and the carefully chosen plants thriving the garden, perhaps these are some of the rewards he experiences in being?
In the context of climate change, our global society exists on a ‘garden island in space.’ The tools we once imagined into being have equipped us with the capacity to move mountains, and now our garden is struggling to thrive. The lessons we learn through our research about the lived consequences of climate change are the fertilizer for better adaptations to our changing world. In Bonn, at COP23, the world has come together to try and move beyond the decision to work together toward a world well below 2 degrees. Now, the world is finding solutions. Sharing practices, worries, and hope. The most difficult part of any journey is beginning. That’s us. The human race well on its way. We have a pile of work to do. But, like the gardener who plants tiny starts in the spring, in a space that will be fertilized by the past, the emerging changes to our garden will be defined by what we plant now. Our progress, politics, leaders and outcomes will not be perfect … but our commitment to the outcome can be.
Julie Raymond is a doctoral fellow at Idaho State University. Learn more about the work anthropologists are doing in climate change research on the AAA website.