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Walking for change

March 8, 2018
By Meg Kulikowski'21

Amelia Diehl'17 walks Alumna Amelia Diehl’17 took the walk of a lifetime last fall. Amelia, a double major in literary studies and environmental studies with a focus in environmental communications and arts, traveled on foot all the way from Paris, France to Bonn, Germany in support of the Conference of Parties (COP23) climate talks in November. Amelia was selected to become a youth delegate member with the group SupportUS and attended the talks.

Amelia’s passion for climate advocacy began soon after she learned about climate change in her seventh grade science class. She was also inspired by many of her interdisciplinary classes at Beloit to take further action, including environmental ethics, global political ecology, history, art history, and two combined English and environmental studies courses, to name a few. After researching activists who walked in support of environmental causes for a class project, as well as reflecting on her love for she decided to make the same kind of change.

“I felt called to go on a long walk, to give myself intentional time and space to discover and cultivate who I was and wanted to be, and to listen openly to others—but I didn't know where at first,” Amelia says. When she was accepted to join the SustainUS delegation in June, she had already made the decision to walk to the UN climate talks.

The next decision was how far to walk. Amelia contemplated her personal and family history in determining her route. Her last name is German and she spent a year living in France as a young teenager. “Perhaps the most urgent piece of [the walk] is to know first and foremost where I come from—and this walk was a step down that path,” she says. “The distance between Paris and Bonn is about the same distance as between Chicago, where I was born, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I grew up.”

The walk was not without its difficulties. After an nerve-racking and exhausting first day of 14 miles walked, Amelia had to adjust her timetable to prevent further strain to her body. She couch surfed through much of her excursion, trying to remain as independent as possible while still requiring help from locals. “While I was letting myself be given a lot, I realized I was being incredibly generous in the sense that I was intentionally giving myself time and space to develop my best self—and I think any social change work is meaningless without that self-awareness,” she says.

Amelia describes the talks in Germany as humbling, but also demoralizing. Limited to one zone of the talks, she saw firsthand what little influence even united grassroots organizations like SupportUS have in environment discussion and legislation.

However, she was one of  hundreds who stood up during a panel and began to sing a rendition of “God Bless America.” Soon enough, cameras were turned on the group, and the singers didn’t back down. While speakers filed out of the room, the group continued to sing and share their stories outside. Amelia was proud. “It was one of the most joyous and empowering moments of my life.That was the biggest thing that's happened at COP23 so far, and definitely one of the biggest youth actions in the history of COP talks,” she says.

Amelia is still digesting her travels in Europe and attendance in some of the climate talks proceedings. But this is far from the end of her journey. “I learned so much about myself, the climate justice movement, the youth movement and politics, and met amazing people from all over the world,” she says. “I'm excited to carry this momentum forward.”