For the first five weeks of our trip, climate change has been the buzz word. We haven´t ever needed to bring the subject up on our own, everyone just talks about it here.
Colombia has suffered severely, like so many other countries in tropic zones, from shifts in climate that have caused draughts, flooding and natural disasters that have destroyed thousands of homes and livelihoods. So it makes sense that climate change is a topic of serious interest here, to everyone.
Considering we have been traveling at altitudes of up to 12,000 feet, the sun can be more dangerous than pleasant. Not only are you more vulnerable to the effects of ultraviolet radiation because you are physically closer to the sun, but studies show that Colombia, a tropic zone near the equator, has suffered the greatest depletion of its ozone of any country in the western hemisphere. So the mal-effects of sunlight here are considerably more severe: the immediate solutions of which are frequent sun block reapplications, full-coverage clothing and sombreros. But the long-term solutions continue to be debated, especially by the younger generation here, or the “Climate Change Generation”.
While volunteering at Organizmo last month, the design school for sustainable building, we helped lead a workshop that was being offered to the Colombia’s 2011 Climate Champions, or 20-something’s who have each been working on unique sustainable farming, energy, social projects pertaining to climate change. Throughout the weekend we met young farmers who were repopulating the Colombian countryside with native, near-extinct species of plants, students who were feeding underserved communities by growing vegetables in recycled bottles on green roofs, and young women leading awareness campaigns about the effects of climate change on the valuable “Paramo”s, or the highest vegetative level of life in the world, 70% of which is found in Colombia. At breaks, groups sporting “Climate Change Generation” t-shirts spread themselves in circles to discuss permaculture and solutions to their nation’s greatest ecological challenges.
In Medellin, we stayed with a recent college grad, Laura, whose father worked for Empresas Publicas de Medellin (EPM), the largest public utilities company in Latin America. Years ago, her father presciently lobbied to form a climate change team for the corporation. He has been leading the team for EPM ever since, attending climate change summits for the past 15 years and brainstorming methods to reduce its impact and reverse the process. While out for a drink, Laura was vehement about the need to stay active in the movement to reduce the effects of climate change. She shared her plans to continue studying public policy and sustainable development, in order to work on climate change policy as a career.
Most of all, however, we hear about climate change from the farmers, as they are the ones who are most immediately effected by droughts, floods, seasonal shifts and unreliable weather conditions. Nor are farmers here unaware of the causes of climate change. They are well-informed about the greatest carbon emitters, the persistent abusers a few meridian lines to the north. They are also fully aware of the reluctance of these countries to change. When the crops don’t grow or do, but are then destroyed, their only choice is to try, try again.
Meanwhile, they have little power to change the factors that perpetuate speeding climate change throughout the world.
When the rain doesn’t stop for days during the “dry” season and refuses to fall during the “wet”, the people look up and sigh, “climate change”: a problem that isn’t going away, a problem that we will continue to talk about with both its perpetrators and its victims, that is, everyone we encounter along we meet along this journey.