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Getting Real

FOMO: Why I'm not going to Paris for COP21

Here's why EMC's Kathrin Winkler won't be at the biggest U.N. climate event of the decade, despite the dreaded Fear of Missing Out.

I’m not going to be attending COP21 in Paris next month. I made the decision a few weeks ago that I just don’t have a good enough reason to spend the time or the money. But boy, as a CSO, am I ambivalent.

And after the events of Friday, I’m even more ambivalent at a deeply personal level. And angry. Angry at the evil. At the wanton loss of life. At how much harder it will be for the 99.999 percent of refugees who are not terrorists to find succor.

And at myself, for walking away from the chance to make the statement "I refuse to be afraid. I’m going to stand in defiance with the people of Paris." But I’m not. 

It’s not like I haven’t done it before. My husband and I went to Indonesia five weeks after the bombing in Bali. More to the point, it was to Manado, where a bombing the same day had been overshadowed by the larger event in the resort island to the south. Our family and friends were freaked out that we decided to go (which is strange, when you consider the fact that they don’t think twice about going to New York or London  not to mention Boston!), and we never regretted it. So I am confident that this horrid circumstance is not what’s keeping me back.

But if I were to go, it should serve a purpose. First and foremost: It should help seal a deal and move the planet toward global action on climate change. Secondly: It should be of value to EMC who is, after all, my employer. Thirdly  and by far the least important: It would be nice if it were of personal value.

So here’s the thinking behind my declining the invitations. Having a critical mass of business representatives at the talks is unquestionably important. Governments around the world need to know that business not only stands behind them, but has a major interest in a positive outcome. Perhaps even more important, our politicians need to know that the corporate community will give them cover if they take action. But judging from all my colleagues who have booked their flights, and all the invitations I’ve had to sponsor booths and publications, there will be no shortage of private sector representation. 

For global consumer brands, it could really be important to attend. The absence of a Starbucks or Apple would be notable. But as respected a brand as we are among those who know EMC, I don’t believe my physical presence would do more than we already have done to lend our voice to the conversation.

We have a public statement on our web site, approved by our CEO, supporting international action on climate change. We are a signatory to an ad that will be published in a major publication calling for a climate deal to be reached in Paris. We have made videos and spoken with policy-makers  few of whom I’d expect to encounter in person in Paris. And we are active supporters of many organizations such as Ceres and ITI that will be there ably representing us. Bottom line: I don’t think my staying home will reduce the likelihood of a deal being done. 

Would it have brought value to EMC? Maybe. Pride, anyway. My attendance could have raised awareness of our company and our accomplishments among some who didn’t know us before. After all, it was at COP15 in Copenhagen, at an event honoring Maya Lin, where I first met oh-so-incisive, yet gentle Marc Gunther, with whom I’ve had so many rich interactions since. I had a great introductory conversation with Peter Seligmann of Conservation International when there, and several with intrepid Jim Balog of "Chasing Ice" fame.

But I’m pretty sure I’d have met all of them anyway, and in my heart of hearts, I don’t think EMC would have suffered had I not been there. Nor will it this time.

As for Paris bringing value to me, well, I am known to state that France is a mecca for the five basic food groups: wine, cheese, bread, coffee and chocolate. I have no doubt that I’d rub elbows with more luminaries of the worlds of climate change and sustainability. And maybe just some stars. Without a doubt, I’d be among my "peeps" — the "sustainocenti" of the corporate and NGO worlds. 

But, oh, how self-indulgent! To be absorbing the buzz and the hope while my team is kicking off our 2015 sustainability report, conducting a stakeholder meeting, rolling out our human rights training and socializing the results of our latest materiality assessment. These are the things that, in the long run, I will be most proud of and want to be working on with my team.

Besides, if I went, I’d be practicing my accent (it’s really good, by the way, if I do say so myself) at a cost that would have sent every one of my team to BSR this year. And Net Impact, too. Personal values lose to guilt on this one. And, let’s be real, it’s going to be a zoo (although hopefully not as cold as it was in Copenhagen).

So no, I’m not going to COP21 in Paris. I just can’t justify it. But oh, how I wish I were! Why?  A wicked case of FOMO, my friend.

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