I had the privilege of attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP 25, this December, and the experience was awesome. I came home feeling even more deeply committed and inspired than I already was. I know many activists are disappointed that high-level politicians didn’t immediately agree on carbon trading and loss & damage issues, and they decry the whole event as a “failure”, but that misses the many amazing things that went on there.

As I learned this year, COP is about so much more than government negotiations. Over 27,000 or so people attended COP 25. I spent hours listening to researchers from around the world sharing information and successes in regards to best practices on agriculture in an unstable climate with other countries. I heard from, or spoke to, businessmen, oceanographers, solar cooker testers, renewable energy developers, climate change educators, and environmental ministers. I can’t tell you how many people I saw networking with others at COP, or the countless people I saw with their heads bent together over some explanation or collaboration.

What I saw was powerful and inspiring and tremendously hopeful. I admire the people that are daring to tackle such thorny and difficult aspects of the climate change problem. It’s really a case of the underdog speaking up to the giant… For example, the Marshall Islands are in danger of being wiped out by climate change, yet the whole country has fewer people than live in Janesville, WI. What courage does it take for them to stand up to big countries and tell them they have to take action, before their tiny neighbors get squashed like a bug? In the U.S. “We are still in” sessions, you could see what the power of people and local governments can do, even when a national government isn’t on board.

The politicians I heard speak at the UN conference sounded knowledgeable and committed. I think it says something very powerful that this COP went into “overtime”, because negotiators cared so much about trying to get agreement, and work the toughest parts of the Paris Agreement out fairly. How often do politicians feel that burning sort of urgency and that amount of public pressure? They could have just packed up their bags Friday evening as they’d planned, and gone home. They are all human beings, and they are not immune to jet lag, exhaustion, frustration, and discouragement. But they kept plugging away at it till the last possible moment. They CARED so much, and tried so hard, and will continue to keep at it.

I’m not surprised that things like paying for loss and damage in other places were a sticking point at COP. With some Americans still unconvinced that humans are causing climate change, it would be pretty empty for any US politician to agree to pay other countries for damages we’ve caused to them, if they know they don’t have the political backing at home to follow through on a promise like that. The US is the second-highest emitting country in the world (after China, which has a much larger population than we do). However, no one likes to admit they caused harm, and it can be hard to take responsibility for damage they’ve caused. That is a part of human nature.

For me it was simply amazing to have people from literally every corner of the globe all in one spot at the same time, everyone aware of the seriousness of the crisis, and sharing a passion to save the world from the ravages of climate change. It was tremendously inspiring to see the collected energy bouncing off the walls – from podiums and panel discussions and press conferences, to individual conversations between people who were sharing ideas, discoveries, and stories with others all over the world. I personally meet people from Samoa, Bhutan, Nigeria, the Bahamas, the U.K., Columbia, Argentina, the Philippines, Slovakia, and Canada (not to mention others from the U.S.)… I even shook hands with royalty!

In short, it was great to be surrounded by tens of thousands of people, from nearly every country in the world, both at the COP venue, and at the climate protest march in Madrid on Friday Dec. 6, who share our family’s concerns about climate change, and who are working with great effort and personal commitment to improve the situation, bringing whatever skills or talents or resources they have to this humongous joint effort.