November 8th, 2013: Take your seat. The world is dying.
The world is dying, and you’ve been given a front-row seat – a privileged spectator spot. Others take their seat in front of televisions and computer screens, where storms are rendered via satellite, and climate change is experienced via tweets rather than typhoons.
Take your seat: passivity, spectacle, experiential and ethical distance.
Not for you. For you, to take a seat is not to observe the tumult from afar but to live it: the uprooting of community, a city ripped asunder in moments, submerged and swept away in the space of an afternoon.
It is to live waves as weighty as windmills and wind wild as whirlpools. It is to live loss as immediate as the breath you barely kept. It is to be crushed by the blows of a planetary ecosystem crumbling under intolerable strain, to feel climate change as not a noun but the most violent and vehement of verbs.
When chairs are strewn across streets like seaweed on seashores – empty chairs and empty tables – how to take a seat?
How to take a seat when yours no longer exists?
December 3rd, 2018: Take your seat. The world is dying.
The world is dying, and the distance between those who experience and those who execute – between those who spectate and those who strategise – can no longer be perpetuated.
It’s not as though the climate clarion calls haven’t been intensifying for not just months but decades. It’s not as though the increasing incidence of extreme weather events – insatiably destructive wildfires, hurricanes that direct destruction towards families, cities and livelihoods, flash floods and snowstorms and drought, the tick-tock of minute but relentless temperature increase – haven’t offered sufficient justification for a watershed moment.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference – snugly situated in Poland’s Katowice, where it would be easy to forget that climate change will not be experienced as half-degree global temperature rises but as lived loss – hopes to be that watershed moment.
But how to turn the silent spectator’s tragedy into the catalyst for change? How to ensure that those that theorise are joined at the table by those that feel – when the latter group is comprised by millions, each as deserving of a voice as the next?
How to ensure that those millions are perceived not as a sigh-inducing statistic but as a chorus of individual voices, each with a human story that demands immediate progress?
You give each of them a chair at the table, using the possibilities that digital technologies offer for democratic engagement with society’s leaders.
You create a space where politician and Executive are held to account by citizen, and the voiceless become the vocal.
You create the catalyst by which we translate abstraction into action, safeguarding the future of our planet.
You ask each of them to #TakeYourSeat.
Climate change had been on the agenda of those that lead since well before Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the small city of Tacloban, The Philippines, on November 8th, 2013, killing 6,300 and shattering the lives of those that survived. One of those was Joanna Sustento, whose family was lost to the storm.
Sustento is the perfect example of those who are reduced to deindividualizing noun (‘people’, ‘those affected’, ‘millions’) in high-level talks about counteracting climate change, yet those who are most susceptible to its imminent effects.
Ever since that day, Sustento has spent her life agitating for action, attempting to hold those most responsible for our warming planet to account. However, the world no longer has the leeway, or the luxury, to wait for more Sustentos to live climate tragedy before they are heard.
This year, the UN took note, and created a symbolic space that those seeking to salvage our planet could occupy, irrespective of location or status: the People’s Seat. Using the virtual communal areas created by social media and digital technology, it invited all those wanting to join the conversation to #TakeYourSeat.
In doing so, it ensured that the act of taking a seat was reconfigured as active participation rather than passive observation, and that active participation was a possibility offered to the many, not the few.
Climate change has regularly been spoken of as our greatest, and existential challenge. Daunting though the prospect of tackling that challenge is, we believe that the ‘incalculably diffusive’ effects that can arise from mass participation are imperative if we are to succeed – if we are to prevent global temperature from rising 1.5% above pre-industrial levels.
We perceive the People’s Seat as an initial ripple that we hope might facilitate tidal waves – tsunamis – of climate action: waves restore breath to a choking planet, and make manifest a world in which all of us can take a seat at tables where the stakes, and the potential costs, are rather lower.