There was a member of parliament from the island nation of Niue, a scientist from the Siberian state of Sakha and a deputy mayor from an Inuit community on the cusp of the North American continent.
One attendee spent her childhood traveling by dogsled and two years ago was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize while another, a professor from Barbados, actually won one.
The Micronesians sent a delegate, as did the Cook Islanders, the Athabaskans and the Seychellans.
As President Obama joined leaders from the most powerful nations on Earth in London last week to combat the economic storm, representatives from some of the most minor ones met back in Washington, D.C. to discuss an equally significant tempest: climate change.
Their group, Many Strong Voices (MSV), unites indigenous peoples from the Arctic with those from the tiny coral isles sprinkled throughout the globe's oceans, known in the parlance of climate change policy as Small Island Developing States, or SIDS.
MSV was spawned on the heels of a 2005 United Nations climate policy meeting in Montreal and met for the first time in Belize two years later. The grounds its constituents call home are as diverse as the planet has to offer, but as the planet warms they share the same catastrophe.
"We want to tell the world that the Inuit hunter falling through the ice and the Pacific Islander fishing on rising seas are connected," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former leader of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) and a nominee for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Four years ago, Watt-Cloutier gained worldwide recognition by indicting the United States in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for producing the greenhouse gas emissions that were warming her Arctic homeland at rates twice as fast as elsewhere on the planet.
The warming hasn't stopped and neither has Watt-Cloutier. But her network has increased, and the world they inhabit has become even more tenuous.
"This is the start of the dying of a civilization" warned Dr. Rolph Payet, an economic advisor to the president of the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean just north of Madagascar.
Some islands in his homeland are composed of granite with spires that rise into the clouds while others rest on a porous coral platform barely visible above the ever-lapping waves. Should sea level rise just several feet, as the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of which Payet was a lead author, predicts, these islands will be inundated.
"Who will be prepared to chuck away a 1,000 year-old album with the history of all their ancestors overnight?" Payet questioned attendees during one session.
The near-term goal of MSV is to garner support for the greatest emissions reductions possible at the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen this December.
"If I walk out of that meeting without an emissions agreement..." fumed Poyet, in a brief moment away from conference proceedings and his Blackberry, Thursday afternoon.
Dejected by political pivoting from nations like the U.S., maneuvers that have come to dominate the UN climate conferences, Poyet has skipped the last two. But President Obama has given him new hope that the Copenhagen proceedings will be different.
It was a theme echoed by many MSV participants.
Paul Crowley, of the Climate Law and Policy Project, one of several groups that helped organize the conference, was nearly moved to tears as he relayed news that President Obama has said he is willing to work towards a successful outcome in Copenhagen.
But for groups like the Inuits of Alaska, even a miracle in Copenhagen can't reverse the damage already done.
Patricia Cochran, an Inupiat Eskimo born and raised in Alaska and current chair of the ICC, presented a harrowing slideshow of her homeland.
In Shishmaref, homes hug cliffs crumbling because of melting permafrost into seas more likely to be beset by storm as rising temperatures reduce sea ice. The media has publicized this town's problems, but there are half a dozen other villages just like Shishmaref, noted Cochran.
Ice that hunters have relied on for centuries is melting earlier and shifting in ways locals don't understand. Last year a convoy of more than 200 snow mobiles had to be rescued by helicopter after sea ice unexpectedly broke up, said Cochran.
"There is not one of us without a friend who has taken their snow machine out and not come back home again," she said. "That's what we face every day. These, in my opinion, are climate related incidents."
Other incidents includes wildfires and scorching heat waves.
"We will not assume the role of powerless victims," said Cochran. "We will do everything we can to ensure our people who have been here for centuries will be here for centuries more."
Nick Illauq, deputy mayor of the remote Baffin Island community of Clyde River, in Nunavut, an autonomous Inuit territory at the top of Canada, voiced concerns about another type of visitor.
"We know the Earth is changing," said Illauq, "everyone is rushing to the Arctic to get our resources. To me, that's my biggest fear. We are very poor, we ask for money and we don't get it. We know we are destroying [the Earth] and yet we rush to find resources."
After a closing meal at a Georgetown restaurant during the final evening of the conference, Illauq stepped outside for a cigarette. The sky was overcast and the breeze warm. He wore cargo pants and a Nike T shirt.
"It's not just the Inuit anymore, it's not just the caribou," said Illauq. "It's the baby being born anywhere right now that is going to have to face all this crap in the future."
He took a drag. "Imagine what they are going to have to face! And it's our fault."
Billy Talagi, an assistant minister from the tiny South Pacific island nation of Niue, joined Illauq. Talagi wore a cobalt blue Hawaiian shirt under a black blazer.
"I want to have the next MSV conference in my town," Illauq said to Talagi.
"That would be good," said Talagi, "because people could actually see, see with their naked eyes."
Justin Nobel is a science writer and photographer based in New York City. His website is www.justinnobel.com.
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