The Sun is squashing us

A personal reflection by Caley, for ARRCC's 2012 Youth Climate Embassy

Caley is 18 and a Christian. She lives in the Macquarie electorate in NSW.

Sitting under a tree, on the dusty earth, were four Kenyan men. On a small solar powered radio they were listening to a sermon. I was on a Development Exposure trip with TEAR Australia, and we were on a tour of their village to see projects that TEAR was supporting. It was the words of one of these men that changed my perceptions about climate change, and deeply convicted me about the action I need to take against it.

I did not catch the name of the eldest man under the tree. I remember his words though: “The sun is squashing us” he said. “We pray for rain and it feels like the devil replies”.

He spoke of how his life had changed over the past 50 years. He said the rains did not come when they used to, and when they did come, they ruined the land. This has made planting crops impossible, feeding livestock difficult and has increased famine. Many livelihoods have been lost due to the changes in climate.

In my mind I contrasted this with what I knew about countries like Bangladesh, where less harvests were possible due to flooding in recent years. Climate change is influencing the poor. Looking around this village in North-West Kenya, one of the things I found hard to consider was the fact that the people in this village were living incredibly sustainable lifestyles. They did not have electricity or cars, and very little rubbish. In terms of their carbon footprint, theirs was nearly nothing, and their consumption of the Earths’ resources was minimal.

Earlier that morning we had visited a school where we saw people with similar lifestyles planting trees to have a positive impact on the climate change picture.

In the cases of these people, it is not their own lifestyles that are contributing to their suffering, but ours. That is a challenge I will carry with me. My lifestyle, or my inaction on the way corporations or governments operate, could be causing others to suffer in the future. 97% of climate scientists agree on man-made climate change.

When I visited Kenya it was in the middle of its dry season, as well as in the middle of a drought which has ravaged much of East Africa. You may have seen the results of this drought in Somalia and other nations that form the Horn of Africa. I saw the effect of this drought with my own eyes, and heard the anguish with my own ears Standing there I knew that the story of this man we met, the stories of his friends and the sorrow they had was not an isolated story. It was replicated in other parts of Kenya, and other parts of Africa. In fact, hardship caused by Climate Change, is seen all over the world in different ways, mostly in the developing world.

Climate change is profoundly influencing the lives of people already.

Thinking about this is confronting.

Within the situation in this village, however, there was also hope. Work has been done to relieve extreme poverty and the impact climate change has had. While the man we met in this village conveyed much anger and sorrow, he also said “God has actually answered our prayers. We have water close by now”.

This water had come in the form of a bore hole, and was funded by TEAR Australia. It is good news for the whole village: women who would spend hours walking to reach water, now have more time. They are now making handicrafts so they have some income for their family. Diseases like cholera, TB and malaria have decreased, because of improved hygiene and safe water. As well as this, students are more punctual for their lessons because they are not walking long distances to the river. This water is bringing life to a community reeling because of drought.

Addressing the problems caused by climate change is one part of the answer. The other part is addressing the issue itself. And it is our responsibility.

Our failure to act on climate change is an injustice.

My vision for the future is a world where my lifestyle does not contribute to the suffering of others.