Cancun from a different perspective

My name is Erin Schutte and I am a junior at Yale College, representing Seychelles at COP16.

Locals from Cancun are used to foreign tourists visiting their native land and I’ve wondered what it would be like to live in such a spring break hotspot for young vacationers. But for over a year now, Cancun has been preparing for foreigners with a different mission – 10,000+ delegates and NGO participants who spend November 29-December 10 hopping from bus to bus, asking for directions to a particular meeting room rather than to the nearest beach. Hundreds of local staff are employed for these two weeks to make the conference run as smoothly as possible. I may not represent every participant’s opinion, but I think that at COP16 it’s hard not to notice the very warm Mexican hospitality we’ve received here in Cancun.

Yesterday on the bus a conference employee sitting beside me began a conversation with me by pointing out the brand new wind turbine alongside the highway that was just erected last week. “That wind turbine was built for you,” he said, noting one of the many changes that have been made in preparation for COP16. The man is hired to do IT work at the conference center, and got hired after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper about positions available and then passing a lengthy exam. Working two jobs now and putting in 16+ hours each day, “I do it for the money,” he said with a big grin. For his 2-week temporary position, he earns 20,000 pesos and considers that to be excellent pay. His welcoming attitude alluded to his pride in showcasing his beautiful local land to the thousands of people who have come here to Cancun with the mission of protecting just that – our beautiful Earth.

Cancun and the nearby region attract tourists in search for blue waters, coral reefs, and Mayan ruins. Still, I’ve noticed that locals share and appreciate the beauty in which they’re surrounded. During my conversation on the bus with the Mexican employee, he mentioned that I should visit Chichen Itza. “It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. But also I love it because my grandmother lives near there and she used to take me there as a child.” Used to a world of busy Americans and bustling lifestyles, I am impressed how natives here still take advantage to enjoy their beautiful surroundings. Today (on our day off from conference activities) when several Yalies and I went snorkeling at coral reefs near Isla Mujeres, our boat driver made a brief comment to me. “Have fun…and enjoy the reefs while they are still alive.”

Protecting those reefs and our planet as a whole is one of the goals in working together to create a global agreement on climate change at COP16. Cancun and its people remind us of what we have to lose if we do not combat climate change.