The Importance of Climate Resilience
Throughout this Dialogue we focused on two key components of climate change policy: adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation deals with how we respond to increased natural hazards due to climate change, while mitigation deals with the steps we take to decrease or stop further climate change. These two concepts must be balanced within our climate policies for us to truly be resilient to climate change.
Going to India changed my perspective on how people can live with weather extremes. Every year, India is inundated with torrential rains thanks to the monsoon. This cycle is a reliable part of life on the subcontinent. This seasonal change is reflected in how people live; when we toured Dharavi in Mumbai, we heard from the tour guides how the industries shift during monsoon season. Clay firing stops. Migrant workers from agricultural regions return home. As the weather changes, the lives of the people in Dharavi change too.
This is different than how seasonal weather extremes are treated in the US, at least in my experience. I come from an area with little rainfall, where the summers are hot and dry. The land is parched of water, so water for residential and agricultural use must be piped in via an intricate canal system. This farming goes on year-round, regardless of how much rainfall has occurred or how much water is lost to evaporation due to high summer heat. Residential homes have lawns that they keep green year-round, and their pools filled. People wash their cars once a week during summer to keep the dust off them. Instead of moving their habits with the seasons, the people where I live fight the weather.
Habits like these are incredible energy and water intensive. We do not need to be pushing our all our systems to be working at maximum capacity all the time. If more people in developed countries were to adjust their lifestyle to weather extremes, and lower their fossil fuel consumption in the process, then perhaps we could avoid more drastic extremes in the future by contributing less to climate change now.
Climate Change Tourism: An Oxymoron
I cannot stop thinking about how much carbon we used to move around India and Nepal. We took 7 flights during the Dialogue, not to mention the flights that we took to get to the Indian subcontinent. We took cars and buses great distances, in the name of learning and tourism. Do the ends of our travels justify the means?
Climate mitigation was a core concept that we studied during our trip. As our professor said many times, mitigation is avoiding the unmanageable. Mitigation means changing our everyday behaviors in such a way that we can have less of an impact on climate change. This can mean a lot of things, but primarily it means reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. When we think about climate change mitigation, the amount of fossil fuels we consumed on our trip begs question.
It is difficult to grapple with the contrast between our studies and our travels. While we learned about how vulnerable the low-lying slums in Bangladesh and India are, we flew to Aurangabad. While we learned how sea-level rise will affect the Sundarbans, we spent 8 hours on a bus to get there. While we learned about glacial melt on the Tibetan plateau, we flew to see Mount Everest. We saw flash floods in Pokhara caused by plastic pollution, but while we were in India we drank only bottled water. We saw beautiful monuments, both man-made and natural, that are increasingly vulnerable due to climate change. We contributed every day (and actively contribute every day) to the same climate change endangering these places.
This leaves me questioning my lifestyle at home. How many lifestyle changes must I make to even out the carbon I consumed this summer? How different was how I travelled on this Dialogue from how I live my day-to-day life? The answers are not encouraging. The American lifestyle, complete with its decadent carbon consumption habits, is choking vulnerable peoples and areas. When American university students travel to India to learn about climate change, what exactly should they take back?
I think that one of the strongest impressions that this trip has imprinted upon me is that the impact of my lifestyle is affecting others more than it is affecting me. This is a fact, and it is a fact that I knew before I left for this trip. But it wasn't until this trip that I had to actually confront this fact. I had look at the landscapes that my habits are destroying, look into the eyes of the people that my conveniences are inconveniencing. One of the most disturbing aspects of this trip is how little it shocked me beforehand. Before we left, I had not questioned the amount of travelling we were undertaking. I had accepted it as normal.
Going to the Indian subcontinent was an invaluable experience for me. We got to see beautiful areas that are endangered by climate change. We got to hear lectures from experts in climate science, and hear firsthand how climate change is changing India and Nepal. We got to experience some of the incredible diversity of the Indian subcontinent by travelling to almost all corners of the country, and travelling like this forced me to confront my consumption habits.
As I leave this trip, I meditate on what it means to be a student of climate science. How much must one walk the talk? How can I take what I have learned, the great potential for loss that we face at the brink of irreparably altering our climate, and translate it to how I live my life? How can I show what I have learned to my family and friends? I hope that this website may be a first step.