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

Finding Perspective

By Allie McGrath

img_1054When people find out I’m a psychology major, the first thing they say is almost always “how does that make you feel?” What I’ve come to see is that, for all of us, how we feel affects the way we make sense of the world around us and how we see our role in the fight against climate change.

Coming from the Big Sky State, we are surrounded by open space and fresh air. With just over one million people, peace and quiet is not hard to find. Since day one in Vietnam, we’ve been woken up by the chorus of honking cars and motorbikes, or the banter of squawking roosters at the homestay, even the grinding and banging of 6:00 am construction outside our hotel windows. Vietnam is packed full with nearly 90 million people in an area smaller than that of Montana, most cruising through the congestion of the cities on mopeds and motorcycles. So, I’ve been feeling a little bit like a deer in headlights, overwhelmed and confused by the pace of development and the incredibly different habitat I jumped into.

As snow piles high back home in Montana, we are sitting here on the 10th parallel, confronted daily by the sweltering sun burning at an average of 80º F. I find myself in a constant sweat stream, flustered by the heat and humidity. Yet, each day also involves taking rest after lunch, a long siesta in a hammock, in which we find sweet relief from the stifling heat.img_1080Here in rural Vietnam, there seem to be as many hammocks as there are mopeds. As we swing around in hammocks, I realize how nice it feels to be cool, quiet and at rest. I am reminded of the constant busy pace of life in America, where relaxation seems to be a thing of the past, and how getting to the top quickly is a measure of success. Whoever decided that naptime stops after preschool was seriously wrong.

img_0357When I think about the bigger issues we are here to confront–climate change– again I think about how I feel and why it matters. Reflecting on my home country, I feel disheartened that the incoming administration plans to dilute and discredit the obvious, imminent problems our world is faced with. This will have particularly severe consequences, especially for vulnerable countries like Vietnam. But as youth, I feel we are a powerful force, and that it is our responsibility to take action and to keep the conversations open about the changing climate.

I am motivated by the students of the Delta Youth Alliance at Can Tho University and their professors, who are doing their part by conducting workshops and programs in order to spread awareness and improve the understanding of causes, impacts, and adaptations to climate change.

As a psychology major studying climate change, I’m reminded over and over how important our motivations are, and how easily we can feel both overwhelmed and also inspired to be agents of change. And that a little nap time and mindful rest can help offer much needed perspective.fullsizerender-29

One response

  1. Well put, Allie McGrath! No doubt, you and your team are where climate-change happens: the Mekong Delta with 100-year drought, land loss to salinization and the historic flooding in central Vietnam (1/2 point reduction of 2016 GDP). Yes, the incoming Trump administration will pursue policy of denials despite sciences and evidences but people won’t. To lend some supports of your view, here’s the statistics on population densities per square km in 2016: the US – 35, Vietnam – 305.

    January 15, 2017 at 5:15 pm

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