Everything That Rises: A Climate Change Memoir
Everything That Rises is two powerful stories in one. The main narrative is that of the tortuous, white knuckle, roller-coaster journey through the UN climate change negotiations, told from the rarely heard perspective of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The other is the tale of a young woman suffering through a devastatingly dysfunctional relationship with her father.
Brianna Craft manages to weave these—her own personal stories—together in a way that is compelling and memorable. One will finish reading with a much-improved understanding of how the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process works (or often doesn’t) and with a deep respect for Craft’s ability to focus on a nearly impossible task while battling family demons and fending off unwanted attention from male colleagues.
The 48 LDCs make up one of several negotiating blocs in the UNFCCC process. They include most of the countries in the middle part of Africa, some of those in southern and southeastern Asia, one in the Caribbean, and several tiny island nations in the Pacific.
In general, they are non-industrialized countries with very low average personal incomes, climates that are already hot, and fragile food production systems. And, almost without exception, they are subject to some of the worst impacts of climate change, which they do not have the resilience or the financial resources to mitigate.
Craft reminds us that “On average, the billions of people living in these countries emitted 0.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The average American, meanwhile, emitted 16 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. So, those who polluted the most suffered the least and used their resources to keep the worst impacts at bay.” Meanwhile the citizens of Pacific island countries watch helplessly as their land is submerged by the waves, those in many African countries experience crippling droughts, and entire villages in Asia are devastated by glacial lake outburst floods.
Craft chronicles the UN climate negotiations from 2011 through 2019, the excitement at small victories in Durban in 2011 and Doha in 2012, and the disappointments of Warsaw in 2013 and Lima in 2014. She writes in desperation from Banjul in The Gambia: “I didn’t want to think about the ridiculous amount of time, money and carbon emissions they devoured. And for what? Given my current proximity to the acute need, sitting on an eroding beach, I couldn’t see how what we did at the UN mattered. The point of it all escaped me.” But the conferences of 2011 through 2014 laid the groundwork for the 2015 meeting in Paris, where, almost miraculously, the 196 participating countries managed to all agree long enough to adopt the Paris Agreement to keep the global average temperature increase below 2° C and to pursue efforts to keep it below 1.5° C.
While the Paris Agreement is far from perfect, and phrases like “pursuing efforts” are an example of its ambiguity and weakness, it is now legally binding in every country on Earth. In the author’s words: “I had doubted the outcome and cursed the process, the sleepless nights, countless hours, and tears and sweat of the last four years. Yet we had structured the future international effort to combat climate change. We had adopted the Paris Agreement.” That agreement includes important provisions for the LDCs in terms of technical assistance with adaptation to climate-change related challenges, transfer of adaptive technologies and financial assistance
Everything That Rises is an essential book because of its insights into the workings of the UNFCCC process and because of its emphasis on the plights and needs of the less developed nations. It is powerful because, by opening her heart, Brianna Craft creates a bond that tugs her readers into the two parts of her story and makes us care. Highly recommended!