Meet South African Hero, Shaun Thomson

When I arrived in Durban for COP17, I knew that I would meet a lot of interesting people. But I thought they would all be from the field of climate change. That was until I incidentally ran into Shaun Thompson while I was biking back to my accommodation from the conference. Shaun, who was crowned World Champion of Surfing in 1977, is a hero here in South Africa.

I caught him outside his apartment, dressed in his ‘business attire’ and waiting for the elevator doors to open so he could jet across the posh lobby without dirtying the floors. He struck me as remarkably funny and totally likable, waxing effortlessly about the charm of Durban. He noticed my UN badge and inquired about COP17. In telling him that I was from UC San Diego, I found out that he calls California home now as well.

Noting my optimism for COP17, he commented on the pessimism in the media and among various delegates. After a perfect pause, for comedic timing, he looks to me and says, “If you come to these conferences, you have to cop in — not cop out.” In the end, his requisite was true. This was the longest COP in it’s 17-year history and negotiators worked 36 hours past the proposed end of the conference. Though the final plenary sessions were nowhere near reaching unanimous consensus on several issues – with Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Russia the most vociferous of all – the COP-in nations of the world chose to do so at a crucial time in human history.

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