Photos Courtesy Melissa Jimenez Gomez-Tagle
At the UN COP 26 “Action Hub,” Melissa Jimenez Gomez-Tagle displayed a yellow-and-black banner reading “WITHOUT ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, THERE IS NO SOCIAL JUSTICE,” on Friday 5 November, in solidarity with the FFF outdoors protest in Glasgow that day, which was led by Greta Thunberg. “Ms. Mel” placed the XR protest banner on the carpet in front of a UN sign, but it was soon removed.
By Alfred Robert Hogan
Melissa “Mel” Jimenez Gomez-Tagle has learned to ably wear three hats—those of climate scientist, climate activist, and climate journalist. And the Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion supporter wore all three during this autumn’s UN COP 26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, UK.
More than two decades ago, then-8-year-old “Mel” began advocating for the imperiled vaquita marina porpoises, endemic to Mexico’s Gulf of California. She had been alerted by a Greenpeace spot aired on television. On her home computer, the precocious activist designed “Save Vaquita Marina” mini-photo-banners, running out of ink from printing so many copies. She then posted them on the hall walls of her elementary school in Mexico. But the photo-banners were soon taken down—and a school official called her parents, who were both physicians. They were issued a warning notice. “Your kid is putting propaganda on the school walls,” they were curtly admonished.
On Friday 5 November 2021, at the UN COP 26 “Action Hub” in Glasgow, the 29-year-old climate and planetary health scientist neatly unfurled and placed a black-on-yellow Extinction Rebellion protest banner on the carpet in front of an official sign. But the powers-that-be soon likewise removed it—and cordoned off the location to discourage any further such activity. “As soon as people started taking pictures, the police kicked me out, and put up cords to avoid people being there. It was just hilarious!,” she recalled, after returning from Glasgow by train back to graduate school Germany.
Photo courtesy COP26.tv
Links to two of Mel’s COP26.tv “Global Voices” programs (https://www.cop26.tv).
Photo courtesy Green TV (US)
Betsy Rosenberg interviews climate scientist Mel and her fellow activist Luciana Verastegui.
In Glasgow, Mel had also found her role as a climate journalist for activist-oriented COP26.tv to be “very fun” and a “challenging experience,” she said. “We were everywhere, inside and outside. COP is not just about what happens inside four walls with the politicians, but outside with the activists, some of those voices not heard inside COP. It was amazing to talk with the [all-too-few] Indigenous people there.” Reporting for COP26.tv’s “Global Voices” program, Mel interviewed some 15 activists from around the world during the two weeks of COP 26. Also, Mel and her Mexican colleague Luciana Verastegui were themselves interviewed from Scotland, at length via ZOOM for 35 minutes, by Green TV US’s Betsy Rosenberg, who was in Texas.
COP 26 was actually Mel’s second COP. When COP 25 shifted from Brazil to Chile and then to Madrid, Spain, she was able to attend, travelling by train from Germany. “I was already abroad for my master’s. When they said that they changed the location to Madrid, I decided that I could now go, since train was cheaper than crossing (again) the Atlantic!,” she recalled. As to whether she will attend COP 27, scheduled for November 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Mel said, “If I get a UN observer accreditation or a party badge, yes. Otherwise, and sadly, I would not be able to.”
Mel, who received training from the Climate Reality Leader program organized by former US Vice President Al Gore, before she started graduate school in Germany had also studied variously in Washington state, Illinois, and Atlanta. She had graduated college in Mexico.
Photo courtesy Melissa Jimenez Gomez-Tagle
Mel speaks briefly at the podium at COP 26 in Scotland.
Mel, who became vegetarian at age 20 as a college undergraduate—upon learning of the high carbon footprint of meat—and is transitioning to veganism, observed, “This was supposed to be carbon-neutral COP, yet they served meat meals, with cows and chickens. It was hard to find the vegan options, other than salads…The person who hosted me was vegan, so I brought vegan food into COP.” (Supposedly, only 40 percent of the COP 26 fare served was vegan, even including salads.) Small fleets of climate-damaging jets brought in “world leaders” and other VIPs.
Besides being blatantly hypocritical, the vibe at COP 26 was decidedly corporate, awash in fossil fuel representatives and bankers and their anti-environmental influence. In all, 503 fossil fuel representatives brazenly sat on 27 national delegations (Canada and Russia among them), whereas by contrast only four Australian aborigines, for instance, attended COP 26 at all. The COVID-19 pandemic, while posing a valid serious concern and one that had delayed the meeting by one year, also served as a convenient excuse to further restrict access, Mel said.
As to 2021’s cobbled-together Glasgow Climate Pact issued on the final extra day of COP 26, Mel denounced it as “what we call a Frankenstein Agreement,” a hodge-podge of “patches,” “greenwashing,” and thinly veiled business as usual. For example, neither COP 26 nor that resulting pact dealt with such major environmental and health issues as animal agriculture and military-warfare pollution, she noted, and in addition, “Health is still left behind—this is unbelievable!...Our health is not negotiable.”
And as for Mel’s future, she hopes to complete her ongoing master’s degree in Sustainable Resource Management at the Technical University of Munich [TUM] in October 2022, if COVID-19 pandemic conditions cooperate. Her specialties there are climate change science and climate change economics, with special expertise in the potential havoc from thawing arctic permafrost releasing hardy ancient micro-pathogens, and in the phenomena of “ecoanxiety” and “ecogrief.” Next, she intends to pursue her PhD at either the Max Planck Institute or the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, or at the University of Tokyo in Japan.
As Mel observed, “Change must come from the people, forcing governments and industries to quit with ‘Business As Usual.’ After working in Indigenous communities in Mexico, after being to two COPs, and after collaborating with XR in Scotland, I saw that the real power comes from the people, not from rich individuals and their interests. And no, I’m not quoting nor citing anyone. That’s my conclusion after my empirical and scientific research for quite a while.” And she added emphatically, “I will, of course, continue with my climate activism.”
To follow Mel on Facebook please see https://www.facebook.com/MeL8THBST. To view her journalism on COP26.tv, please visit https://cop26.tv/global-voices. To see Mel being interviewed on Green TV (US) on Sunday 7 November 2021, please look under https://www.greentv.com/ecosolutionaries.