Where should we start?
Some thoughts to get us going.
By Tom Hammett
Climate Conversation: Session 1: Global Perspectives
The first session of our year-long series of conversations on the climate crisis began with a broad discussion based on global data and observations about what we are facing. We were blessed to be joined Dr. Tom Hammett whose years of work and research in the Himalayas provided a important perspective on what is happening in one of the most vulnerable parts of the world. (See his slide show for a sense of what these changes look like.)
He talked about the challenges of climate change, especially in terms of the impact of shrinking glaciers on the land and the quality of the water, but he also pointed out in stark terms the negative impact population growth (slides 5-6) and the demands for development are having on the ecology of Nepal as well.
We tend to limit our thinking about climate change to what happens directly to the environment, but Tom reminded us that the impacts are felt in economic and social terms as well. As the glaciers disappear what remains beneath them is generally dry, rocky soil unfit for farming. River beds change shape. They broaden and fill with glacial debris as a result of spring and summer flooding (see slide 10). Road building (see slide 7-8) is reshaping the mountain sides creating more danger of run off and mud slides. Without considerable irrigation efforts, the land is unproductive and does not support the kind of population growth (see slide 5) that is occurring in Nepal. The rapid pace of climate change also means that greater engineering and economic input is required to irrigate the land and provide food for the population (see slides 12-15).
Tom told us that there were signs of hope in the efforts of people in Nepal to change their farming methods, to conserve water, and to change more sustainable kinds of crops (see slide 16). All of that causes some level of social disruption, of course. In the extreme, Tom shared that there are now signs of climate migration—people are moving to places that can support their basic food needs and needs for wood for their cooking fires (see slide 19). We also discussed how the melting glaciers and the degradation of the land is beginning to be felt further south on the Asian subcontinent. Shortage of drinking water, changes in the patterns of the monsoons, and the need to shift to more sustainable crops are all seen as impacts in India and Bangladesh, for instance. Ultimately, those areas depend upon snow melt from the high Himalayas.
We then brought the experiences of Nepal closer to us here in Maine (see slide 17). Working in small groups participants discussed how Tom’s observations could be seen in Maine, certainly to a lesser degree, but none-the-less important. It was a lively discussion and brought out the fact that there is a great deal of awareness and concern among our participants about what is happening here.
In each session we will end by asking participants to identify an action that they will take based on our discussion. There were some very interesting ideas and people seemed dedicated to doing something that will make a difference.