An Exciting and Crucial Moment in History: Paris Climate Conference 2015

December 10, 2015

I have spent my entire life exploring the oceans.


Climate change will affect every one of us, we must take serious actions now so that future generations may have the same privileges we have had the honor to know. © Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society

At first, I didn’t have a choice. At seven years old my father, Jacques Cousteau, strapped his newly invented scuba gear on my back, gave my brother and I a nudge from our tiny boat in the Mediterranean Sea, and into the ocean we went. When our faces hit the water, our eyes widened and gleaned with excitement for the fishes and colorful life we saw. We became instant divers, and I have never stopped since. My father was an adventurous man with an unwavering drive and inquisitive spirit. Naturally, exploring the sea became his greatest adventure, with my family and me being accomplices to the grand journey of exploration and discovery into the largest ecosystem on our planet, covering over 70 percent of Earth’s surface: the ocean.

Many things have changed since my childhood days growing up in the south of France. I have witnessed beautiful, untouched treasures on earth, and I have seen the destructive consequences of human’s careless actions. In my seventy years of diving, I have never stopped wanting to explore more, learn more, and share more about what I know. And now, I have never been more excited, or optimistic, about the future.

In December 2015 in Paris, world leaders from 196 countries will come together for the United Nations Climate Conference to talk about the greatest challenge facing humanity: global climate change and the implications to the world. It is a meeting that will determine the future of the world’s economic development and the course we will all take together.

For decades, we have been hearing scientists talk about the threat of climate change. Human activities from the burning of fossil fuels release carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, which is turn causes the temperature of our planet to rise. The consequences are broad and cascading: from the natural environment to human communities, the impacts will continue to affect every one around the world unless we take real action to do something about it.


During a filming expedition to the Amazon in 2009, Jean-Michel meets a young child. Her community relies on the quality of the environment around them for food, water, and their health. © Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society

History in the Making

Discussions about the impacts of climate change have been going on for quite some time now. My father, who was first and foremost an explorer and adventurer, became increasingly aware about the environmental state of our planet over time as his team traveled across the seas aboard Calypso. Through our journeys, we began witnessing the ravaging effects of pollution and overfishing on the environment, and most disturbing, the repercussions to the societies that depended on their environment for their health and economic wellbeing.

In 1992, world leaders came together for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, called “Earth Summit.” It was a gathering intended to discuss the global landscape of the environment, the first time so many nations came together to collectively address the state of the planet. Included in the discussions were issues related to the production of toxic chemicals, problems causes by polluted air and water, the growing scarcity of freshwater, and alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels that scientists long stated were linked to climate change. As an international diplomat for the environment, my father spoke at the conference, addressing not only those present, but also sending his environment message and concerns to people around the world. The most memorable speech that shook everyone awake came from 12-year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who looked at the roomful of delegates and pleaded: why won’t you protect my future? She was known as “the girl who silenced the world.”

Twenty years later, I attended the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also called “Rio +20.” Like my father, I too possessed a deep understanding about the growing impacts of unsustainable development and the crucial need for better protection of our nature resources. I had the honor of meeting the new President of France, along with many other heads of state. Speaking on behalf of the oceans, my message to the attendees was an urgent call to action; we need more protection for the open ocean to allow nature to replenish itself and recover from our overuse of its resources.


Declining sea ice in the Arctic from global climate change pushes this polar bear and her cub to the brink of survival, along with many other species across the globe. © Ira Meyer

Time for Action

Now, more than ever, we must make important decisions and take significant actions. We are at one of the most exciting times in human history. Although it has taken a while to get here, we are finally in a place where the public has more access to information than ever before. We now understand the greatest threats that face humanity: the increasing impacts of climate change and our continued use of unsustainable energy.

The upcoming United Nations Climate Conference in Paris is a critical moment. The leaders and decision makers of the world have the opportunity to make significant changes that can allow us to create a better future. We accidentally caused the acceleration of climate change through our emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but we know how to fix it. We must reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, we must create tangible goals for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and we must pave the way for countries, industries, and businesses to transition into a clean energy economy.

For too long, we have continued on a path of destructive development and exploitation of nature’s resources. There has been huge opposition by decision-makers to accept the reality of climate change and make real changes to protect our environment. But now, human populations around the world are suffering. We are already feeling the impacts of our changing climate and we are suffering the consequences from the lack of action.

It’s Not Too Late

The good news? There has been a major “kick in the butt” that is having severe economic impacts and finally forcing even the deniers to take the climate discussions seriously. It is heartening that many economists and the insurance industry are calling for action because climate change is affecting every aspect of our economic well-being. Major storms and hurricanes such as Hurricane Sandy, for example, have shown us that without stabilizing our global temperature, we will experience stronger and more frequent storms, costing us billions of dollars in damages. Droughts are increasing around the world, threatening freshwater and food security for billions. And as the oceans warm and expand, sea levels will rise and coastal communities will face uncertain futures, many will be forced to move. All of these and many more impacts will affect our economic security as well as our environmental well-being.


It is not too late to move our world on a path for a more sustainable future, but the longer we wait, the more difficult, and more expensive it will become. Borders are a thing of the past: there is only one ocean, one land, one global system, which we all depend upon for survival. Although we cannot stop the climate from changing, we can reduce the influence humans have contributed to its acceleration. We must learn from nature – nearly all energy on Earth comes from the sun, which powers the winds, the waves, and the currents. We must harness that energy just as nature has for millennia.

The face of our planet is the ocean. It is the largest ecosystem on our Earth. But the face of climate change is not the whale, the polar bear, the glacier, the rainforest or the desert. The face of climate change is us. We are the ones who will feel the consequences most harshly if we do not take action now. Climate change is about saving ourselves and everything else get’s saved too.

We have the opportunity to do that now. In Paris in 2015, support a binding global climate agreement that reduces man-made greenhouse gases. Talk to your family, your friends, and your neighbors. The quality of our lives depends on the quality of our environment. Our children, grandchildren, and generations to come deserve to have the same privileges as we have had: to see the beauty of the colorful coral reefs, witness the majesty of the polar bears, and benefit from the living, breathing rainforests, among all of nature. A prosperous economy will only be sustained by a healthy, clean-energy future. The cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of doing something. The time is now, and the opportunity is here. Let’s take actions now!

Warm regards,


Jean-Michel Cousteau
President, Ocean Futures Society
with Jaclyn Mandoske