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Dickinson to Durban » Climate Change, Environmental Justice, Environmental Politics, Mosaic Action » “The Last Destination…” -Pico Iyer

“The Last Destination…” -Pico Iyer

By: Anna McGinn ‘14

“The last destination isn’t the final place on the itinerary, but what happens when you get home and try to make sense of it” -Pico Iyer

Over the past few weeks, numerous people have asked me to share with them the highlights of my time in South Africa- What will I most remember about the trip? What were some of the most interesting things I learned? Usually, I respond by explaining that although the different sections of the trip are interconnected, it is nearly impossible for me to pick an all-encompassing most memorable moment. Rather, I break the trips into its sections- COP17, the safari, our volunteer work, and our other adventures in the Valley of 1000 Hills- and begin my stories here.

The atmosphere of the COP was unique and one that I will never forget. Although the negotiations themselves did not produce any trend altering decisions, the presence of the delegates not directly involved in the negotiations was a positive force throughout the conference. The friendliness of the people and their willingness to share their abundance of knowledge with us was amazing. I will never forget going from one booth to another in the exposition center talking to a group of people from Nepal about climate change in the Himalayas, then talking to people from Cape Cod about Woods Hole, and then walking to the next booth and having a conversation with eight delegates from Madagascar about the vulnerabilities of their country. Not only did these people and many others share their work, experiences, hopes, and fears with us, but they also talked with each other by walking around to the booths and attending side events. Organizations from around the world were able to connect, find their similarities, share idea and resources, and establish bonds which will help many of the groups for years to come. It was clear to me by talking to people and hearing conversations after side events that this knowledge sharing and connecting between cultures inspires hope for combating climate change on a local, national, and global level.

About twenty minutes into our morning safari at Hluhluwe game reserve, we watched a giraffe cross the road in from of our vehicles and walk into the African sunrise- an image I will always remember. Other highlights from this weekend include watching a hyena cross the road in front of the pick-up truck which half of us were seated in the back of, monkeys jumping on the roof of the hut the first morning at the research center, and being surrounded by a pride of lions. In addition to the beautiful animal, the central message I took away from our lectures from the researchers was the great extent to which humans control the parks and the animals. Humans regulate the numbers of each species, where they travel, and what park they live in. The animals are wild, but they are closely controlled to protect people and the tourist industry.

As far as our outdoor adventures in the Valley of 1000 Hills, encountering zebras on our walk right outside the suburbs was incredible as was sticking my head into a waterfall after a memorable mountain bike experience and watching the clouds clear around the epic peaks in Drakensberg Park as we hiked through the valley below.

Volunteering at the Makaphutu Children’s Village was a very fulfilling experience. I enjoyed interacting with the people whose country we were visiting. Engrained in my memory are the little boy who jumped into my arms at the final distribution sight we visited, the silly hand games we played and songs we sang with the children at Makaphutu, and the stories Brendan, the director of Lily of the Valley, told us during our tour of LOV.

I could continue to list numerous more distinct memories, but in an effort to better connect all of these sectors of the trip with each other and with my life I have come up with a few broader conclusions from my time in South Africa.

First, you have to do something. Inaction can clearly be seen on the part of countries such as our own in the climate change negotiations. This needs to change. The work of Brendan, the ladies who run the small safe houses for children affected by HIV/AIDs, the NGOs we met at the COP, the treepreneurs program in Durban, and the Ministers from countries such as Costa Rica and the Maldives are concrete examples that we can act and it is worth it to do so.

A second, and similarly obvious, conclusion is that unlike many of the people after this experience I returned home to a wealthy country and a comfortable lifestyle. The people from the Valley of 1000 Hills certainly could not pick up and leave their impoverished situation, their HIV positive blood, or their poor education system. Many delegated I spoke to at the COP returned home, but not to a country with enough water and food, sufficient education, and some level of economic resilience. Many of the countries delegates returned home to are deeply affected by climate change now and they have to deal with the impact now. The only impact I had to deal with was less snow for skiing which is not comparable. It is safe to say that we have a comfortable cushion which effectively allows us to put climate change on the back burner if we so desire. In South Africa, we witnessed the situation in the rural areas and we heard from people in vulnerable countries about their situation and then we left. We walked into the lives of the children at Makaphutu and then three days later we walked back out. This is not to say that it was not a worthwhile experience and that’s not to say that some of us might return at some point, but the point is that it will be by choice- a freedom not many people can afford.

A third and final observation is that climate change truly connects and affects all facets of life regardless of whether people recognize it. Climate change impacts cultures, poverty, animals, corporations, governments, individuals, landscapes, indigenous rights, women’s rights food, water, and education. Pick your issues and climate change is bound to connect in some way.

This trip was a truly incredible experience. It is now our responsibility, as students with substantial knowledge and passion about climate change, to spread the knowledge, remember the people we met, and take action.

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