First published in the Dec. 3 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
It is easy to fall into a cycle of doom and gloom when contemplating the outcomes of the world’s seemingly meager attempts at solving the climate crisis. Just a year ago, Burbank native and Christian climate activist Angelea Hayes found herself in that state after watching global climate negotiations take place from afar.
This year, though, Hayes had a seat at the table.
She took the trek to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last month to attend the 27th U.N. Climate Change Conference, or COP27.
There she served as an observer “facilitating the transparency of the process so civil society has access to information about what’s happening,” Hayes told the Leader. Her colleague and fellow activist with the Christian Climate Observers Program, Elsa Barron, delivered a speech during a roundtable with the U.S. delegation.
“Seeing COP27 take place in person definitely helped alleviate my fears for the future. It made the process seem a bit more concrete in my mind. Before attending, I had no idea what went on at the COPs — there was a sort of mysticism about it,” she said.
At COP27, Hayes brushed shoulders with world leaders, spoke with her fellow youth activists, and even had a conversation with U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who led the panel discussion.
“Pelosi acknowledged the unique insight and power that young people of faith have in influencing their communities. She closed the panel, asserting that we owe it to the children to fight for a safe future. Afterward, she approached Elsa and me, expressing a need for young people to help turn the tide in favor of climate action, especially in the Republican party,” Hayes said.
Pelosi announced she was stepping down from her longtime role last month shortly after House Republicans secured the majority. Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, was recently attacked with a hammer in his San Francisco home. Pelosi cited the event in her resignation.
“You see the rhetoric that was going on that day, and you will see what that man said coming into my home, you see a thread. And that’s just not something that has a place in our democracy,” Pelosi said.
Just before COP27, Hayes had the opportunity to address her church congregation on the topic of climate change for the first time. She was nervous. She wasn’t sure how well her message would be received.
“I was overwhelmed by the positive response. Many members from my congregation donated to my GoFundMe campaign and came to me with lots of questions. Many of them expressed interest and were encouraged by the fact that people of faith were getting involved,” she said.
Her trip to COP27 was crowdsourced, meaning it was fully funded by her community. Hayes said she didn’t realize that her community was so invested in the work she was doing until now.
A John Burroughs High School alum, Hayes recently returned to Burbank after graduating from Pepperdine University. Her time at COP27 has made her hopeful for the future.
“Sometimes talking about environmentalism at home and even at school is a little discouraging because while many people do care about the environment, they all seem to assume that there is not much to be done, that the challenge is too great to overcome. But while I was at COP27, I felt like everyone was on the same page,” she said.
“We all knew what we stand to lose in the face of the climate crisis, that the challenge is indeed a great one, and yet we had all taken the extra steps to do something about it,” Hayes told the Leader.
Hayes became involved in sustainability during college, so her work was generally geared toward other college students and her university’s administration. Now recently graduated, she is back in Burbank and plans to do climate work in her hometown, Hayes said.
“One of the first things young people in Burbank can do is to talk about climate change with their friends, family and teachers,” Hayes said. “What feelings come up when you think about the environment, and climate change? Share those thoughts with those around you. Many people may share your concerns. If not, maybe you can share what you know with them.”