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But that’s not what they call it

We are sitting around in El Poncho, and the backdrop is impossibly beautiful: rolling hills in the distance, the sound of the distinct songs coming from the different birds, the drooping branches of the trees sheltering us from the relentless beating of the Andean sun. But the mood is serious, because the topic we are discussing is equal parts scary, upsetting and stressful.

“What are some things that come to mind when we think of climate change?” Stephen asks the group. Without missing a beat, we all chime in with words like “unpredictable”, “denial”, “vulnerable”, or “loss”- it is apparent that we have all been thinking about it quite a lot.

A few discussions and a couple articles later, I already feel so much better equipped to talk about this topic with my students back home. I am, in fact, already designing a lesson plan in my head, incorporating terms like “climate emergency”, and “climate justice”, thinking about films and readings I can incorporate. But then something Alan says hits me hard.

“The people here don’t call it climate change, of course. They just know that the rain is not coming when it used to anymore”. This is especially enlightening, but also tragic: the global North has created a problem, identified and labeled it, and then incompetently mismanaged it and failed, or rather refused, to resolve it. Meanwhile, the people who are being most affected by this problem had little or no part in it, but they will not be able to just pick up and move further up North, prepare their houses for higher temperatures, or adapt their cultivation methods for increasingly unpredictable seasonal patterns.

People deny the existence of climate change because it is easy for them. Whatever consequences they are already facing seem minor, and it is easy to discard the fact that you are playing a part in what is destroying the livelihood of others who live so so far away.

But when you travel like we are traveling in Bolivia, when you fall in love with its natural beauty, when you live with people who work from dusk to dawn on a land that is less and less fertile each year, when you learn about the fragility of ecosystems, it becomes that much harder to brush off climate change as a problem far away in time and distance.

We can only hope that we are able to bring a part of that to our students.