Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Climate Change is Boring by Katy Hopkins

In preparing for this blog entry, I researched many different perspectives on climate change. VeritasiumAnElementOfTruth_291015_263x351In doing so, I found a YouTube video by one of my favorite channels called Veritasium. In it, Derek Muller explains his opinion—that climate change is boring. In his view, it is boring because “the story of climate change is not especially compelling.” This just isn’t the case, and my opinion on that has only gotten stronger since being in the Mekong Delta.

BoyOnBicycle_422Climate change is more than just CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, and it is especially more than the broad story Veritasium tells in the video, which I encourage everyone to watch and be offended. In the Mekong Delta and around the world, climate change means rising sea levels, storm surges, altered seasonal patterns, food shortages, and millions of displaced people.

Much of the Mekong River Delta is only around a meter above sea level; therefore, even a small rise has the potential to submerge much of delta. climate-change-impacts-on-agriculture-in-vietnam-4-638It is estimated that Vietnam could lose 40% of its land to the sea in the next 100 years. As one of the countries most affected by climate change, I thought they, or more specifically The Communist Party of Vietnam, might have a solid plan in place to deal with these effects. They do not.

Dr_Tuan_CaMauMap119Well, they do. Kind of. Their plan is to build dikes. There are dikes around much of the coast that protect farms and channel water into canals. 83% of the land in the Mekong River Delta is used for farming, so it follows that extensive measures would be taken to protect the farmer’s livelihoods.

When I asked one of our lecturers if the government had plans or had even discussed moving the people in this area further north and up higher, the answer I got was vague and uninformative. “It’s difficult to have a general case about the moving of local people.”

On this trip, we visited shrimp and rice farmers MrThanhVACB_Farmer_317to talk to them about their livelihoods and the effects of climate change. When asked what they might do in response to climate change, the response, in short was, “Eh.”

Of course, most did not know the term “climate change,” but ask about storm surges and rising sea levels, and they knew what you meant. A basic response was that the dikes would protect them. No, they would not move from their current homes, because dikes are surely impenetrable, even by the sea.

WomanSellingVegetables_CanTho_910Perhaps it is because that land does not “belong” to them in an American Capitalist sense. Maybe because they place a lot of their faith in the dikes, but no one we talked to was terribly concerned about the changing climate.

They said they noticed a change in length and severity of the two seasons—wet and dry, but they just altered their planting and harvesting schedules to match. The dry season is getting longer, and the wet season is getting more sporadic rainfall, but less rain overall. That’s the only thing they have had to deal with so far.

Katy&LeahPigs_349However, in the long term there is going to be much more to deal with. It seems that climate change is boring if we only think about CO2 concentration statistics, or if we enjoy the act of being blissfully unaware of the suffering of others. If we zoom out to a view of life on Earth hundreds of years from now, when everyone living now will absolutely be dead, it’s not clear whether humans will be here. That’s the overarching draw to climate change for me—we are not caring about it to save the Earth, we are caring to save ourselves. We are already causing a mass extinction and scientists have even renamed the current epoch the Anthropocene. This is the time interval in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities. The Earth has recovered from every mass extinction in the past, so evidence would say that it survives this one. But a mass extinction would mean the end of most species on Earth, humans included.

If you can’t care about shrimp farmers or rising sea levels, you can probably care about that. Humans are killing themselves. Slowly, and over a long period of time, but if we don’t do something now we’ll definitely all be dead.


One response

  1. Wow Katie, very interesting. I’m so impressed with not only your writing but also your passion. You make an old 2nd grade teacher very proud to say, you were one of mine!

    January 14, 2016 at 2:45 pm

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