NewFM caught up with Miami’s own Kaydrianne Young on Monday while she waited at MIA for her flight to Paris for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference Of Parties (COP). As she fortified herself with some last-minute Cuban food, Kaydrianne spoke with us about her hopes for the trip.

selfie of three smiling women
Climate justice organizer Kaydrianne Young waits at MIA with other Gulf South delegates for their flight to the Paris climate summit

NewFM: In what capacity are you going to the climate talks? Are you representing a particular Miami organization, or are you just an independent environmentalist?

AY: I am a part of the Miami Climate Alliance, though you could say I’m going as a concerned citizen. I actually wouldn’t describe myself as an environmentalist, though I do enjoy nature for its own sake. My real concern is in climate justice: environmental racism and the disproportionate effects of climate change on the Global and American South.

I’m traveling to Paris as part of the Gulf South Rising (GSR) delegation. GSR is an organization focused on the impact of the climate crisis on the Gulf South states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. I was personally very moved when I attended GSR’s events organized around the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I heard powerful stories from people in Louisiana about the recovery after Katrina, and I saw strong parallels between the inequality in New Orleans before the hurricane and Miami right now, before sea level rise. If you listen to what happened with all those recovery dollars that poured in after Katrina, the allocation of resources wasn’t to the people most affected — poor, Black communities were displaced, while the money went to other people who came to the city after the storm.

But for me, GSR is a story of triumph following trauma. I’m part of their delegation to Paris of thirty-three people. Among us are a First Nations chief and a Vietnamese fisherwoman from Louisiana who will represent the Gulf South at the Conference Of Parties (COP). They’ll be bringing their communities’ experiences to this international forum, to convey the devastating effects of the climate crisis, environmental racism, and economic injustice.

NewFM: Wait, can we back up for a second? I’m caught on what you said earlier about the link between the American and Global South, and about Miami now being like New Orleans before Katrina. Can you talk more about the connection between climate change here and in other places?

AY: Yes! The experiences of people in Miami and the rest of the Gulf South aren’t unique; these are things that are happening throughout the Global South. Climate justice is regional, but it’s international too. One of our goals in Paris is to build avenues of communication between the communities all over the world who are most disproportionately affected by climate change.

NewFM: So what exactly is at stake in Paris, and what are you hoping to accomplish there?

AY: Well, President Obama wants to leave a legacy of real movement on the climate crisis. He’s been criticized for not doing enough, but it is a huge issue for him and he wants to get something done. I’ve read that the GOP has been threatening to send their own delegation to Paris to block his efforts by emphasizing to foreign leaders that they’ll prevent any of his actions on climate change from clearing Congress. So that’s one big goal while we’re there: to show support for the President and to demonstrate our solidarity and strength.

Our more long-term goal is to link our experiences in the Gulf South with those of other regions all over the world: as I said, making connections between the Global and American South. Our activities in Paris will be somewhat limited due to the terrorist attacks, but I’m really looking forward to speaking with people from other countries and making those connections that will strengthen climate justice as a global movement.

NewFM: You sound surprisingly upbeat. This is the least depressing conversation I’ve ever had about climate change.

AY: Yes, the tone on this subject is usually very gloom and doom, but I’m optimistic; I believe in our movement and the people fighting for it… Okay, thanks for talking. I’ve got to go catch my flight!

NewFM: Bon voyage.