Climate change: More than just a buzzword

A close up of a young boys legs standing on top of dry and cracked mud.

Having recently finished school, the very knowledge I gained is just sinking in. Throughout my studies I looked at diverse issues related to society and the environment, however, they seemed so distant (from Canada) and mechanic back then coming from a text-book. To be honest, along the constant deadlines, chores, bills, commitments, and life - I was concerned about my own interests and joys and barely noticed or cared about the changes happening to the climate in my surroundings. Extended winters, hotter summers, recurrent floods- I disregarded the notion that my safety and future was at risk due to the minimal effect these appeared to have on my life. I took these signs for granted, making it easy to think all these issues were controlled.

I do believe, this is the case for many. While there is a number of movements for climate action (mostly from young people), I feel up to a point “climate change” is simply just a buzzword for a portion of the population. We hear about it on the news, but I doubt people know the many dimensions it comprises. For example, where do our material things come from? Where do they end up? I feel these are questions we disregard in our role as consumers considering products are advertised to appeal to our desires, not our conscience. Of course, our choice is determined by what is available to us, reputed, and financially accessible as well. ‘Is it a brand, a promotion, the newest model?’ I have heard – is what the people care about, not its impact on the environment. Thus, different priorities. Misconceptions and ignorance, in my opinion, contribute to this cycle of hasty consumption which arises from a lack of spaces to discuss the issue. And I say this because it was my experience; doing usual stuff not realizing the impact – or knowing the impact and not knowing what to do.

I must say, my mentality towards climate change shifted from the influence of my experience coming to South America for a couple of months, where I have been exposed to the more devastating effects of climate change. Arriving during the rainy season, I would constantly hear in the news about the ‘huaycos’- mudslides caused by floods in high mountains, which happen on a yearly basis affecting homes, transportation, and access to basic services [1]. Then, travelling throughout Peru – I learned about glacial retreat; which I was surprised to know how a country with 70% of tropical glaciers in the world [2], apparently is losing them in the next decades. Discussing with the locals and doing my own research, I learned how they count on these glaciers as a water source for consumption and for energy production. Similarly, in the Amazonian jungle, the rising flow of the river puts a risk on the many houses right beside it in addition to the livelihoods of the many people dependent on the river [3].

Some may argue we cannot handle climate change, but by now, evidence has shown how we have managed to influence how it behaves [4]. It is easy to disregard the impact we have on those who live in environments we barely see, but our actions can make a difference. Representation and participation of every experience is key to understand the scale of climate change. It is important to involve everyone in this conversation to build commitments and awareness throughout the different levels of government, the private sector, civil society, and the individual- all these in consideration of children and youth. They are the ones already disproportionately impacted by the  consequences of climate change, and the ones who will face and deal with it in the future.

I now am helping coordinate the development of a Summit for children and adolescents, from different regions from all over Peru to discuss the effects of climate change in their lives. Throughout these efforts I have learned how they are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, considering they also depend on others for resources and protection. However, I have also learned how children and young people are crucial agents of change. Through education, projects and actions, we can spark action and awareness to develop solutions that integrate the long-term perspective of the world – in a sustainable way- but for that we need to talk among generations.