By: Christine Burns ’14
The last week of our three week adventure in South Africa was spent in the Valley of 1000 Hills. We spent the first few days working at orphanages and then two days exploring the Valley. For me, spending that last week in the Valley of 1000 Hills was the most appropriate way to end our climate change trip. It was a week for the group to do some reflection, individually and communally. We reflected on many things, but the link between climate change and poverty stuck with me.
How is it fair that we were born to the comfortable lifestyle that we live. While we are purchasing iPhones and fancy laptops, these people cannot put food on the table. The percentage of the South African population living below the poverty line is 50%. That does not make any sense. One in every two people living in South Africa is living below the estimated minimum level of income needed to secure the necessities of life! South Africa is considered one of the “better off” African countries. The images in our minds of the distribution lines, the grateful people, and the pride in what they did have, stayed with us all. We all wanted to change their situations for the better. Then Neil asked us the dynamite question: considering all that we have learned this semester and saw from the children of Makaphutu and Lily of the Valley to the women of the distribution line; is climate change the most important issue to each of us?
It’s been almost two weeks since we’ve arrived home, and I am still not fully sure how I prioritize the issues that are most important to me. I can say that all I have learned this semester has taught me that climate change is bigger than an environmental issue. Although I think that saving the environment is a valid and important thing to do, climate change is also a human rights issue. As the climate changes, life will only get harder for the people barely scraping by. Life will become more complicated for people living off of the land such as farmers and herders. In some areas, water will become scarcer and others it will become too much. As the climate changes the people in need will need more help, and we do not give them enough help currently. Bringing them cans of food and boxes of clothes and shoes does not help them fix the problem; it puts a Band-Aid on it. “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Climate change will make this problem even harder to fix. So I guess what I am saying is that I do think these people are extremely important, and one of the ways that we can indirectly help them is by dealing with climate change. Donations to organizations like Makaphutu and Lily of the Valley are great, and getting out there in person is even better. We also need legislation that will protect them and their families in the future. We need mitigation legislation in countries like the US, and adaptation legislation in areas like the Valley. I know that the COP is trying to do this, but it is not working fast enough, so we (the Mosaic) have an obligation to share what we have learned about climate change, about the people, about the link between climate change and poverty; and take up their cause. Human rights and climate change are linked, and we can take up two huge issues at once. It won’t be easy, but I’m going to give it my best.
Filed under: Climate Change, Mosaic Action, Environmental Justice · Tags: Christine Burns, climate justice, Makaphutu, poverty, Valley of 100 Hills, climate issues, Lily of the Valley, climate change and poverty, reflections