Last week, I left the big city, and, for that matter, my entire island home of the Dominican Republic, behind. I headed for the Guatemalan highlands, to the town of San Marcos, nestled in lush green hills located a good five hours from the capital and the airport. And from there I would travel another two hours into the deepest and steepest of hills where I would sit in a classroom with eight men from the community of San Pablo, seemingly isolated, seemingly miles from nowhere, and discuss…Climate Change.
I was traveling as a part of a team of people from six different countries and five different national and international organizations, and we were being trained in a process that helps agencies that support communities such as San Pablo consider how climate change might impact their future.
Climate Change has always seemed a bit nebulous to me (pun intended). There are so many factors that impact our weather that it is sometimes difficult for me to wrap my mind around the science of it all. Some things are becoming clear, though, even to me. There are very high likelihoods that, in the near future, many of the world’s dry areas will be getting drier and many of the world’s wet areas wetter. And natural disasters are becoming, and very likely will continue to become, more frequent and more extreme.
And the fact that is most clear to me is that it is the people who live on the margins of our societies, the ones whom Christ most directly identifies with, that are the most vulnerable to these changes. In urban and rural areas alike, many people live in poor housing that doesn’t stand up to storms, or in low lying areas subject to flooding. They are less likely to be prepared to respond to severe weather events and less likely to receive government assistance if an event occurs.
The gospel call to solidarity challenges us not to allow our brothers and sisters to face this vulnerability alone.
In San Pedro, our conversation was centered on water and trees. An elderly man, the patriarch of the community, spoke of having initiated a reforestation project in the community some 25 years ago. The project continues to be strong today. For more than two decades, the community has dedicated its efforts and energy to caring for its environment, and if the experts have anything to say about it, they are caring for our environment as well.
But 25 years of planting trees can’t compete with the amount of resources being consumed in the worlds more industrialized cities and nations. And the effects of that consumption, the current and projected impacts on the climate, are being felt most strongly by those most vulnerable. In San Pablo, the community confirms what the experts suspect: there are changes in rain patterns, making it more difficult to know just when to plant.
Twenty five years of planting trees can seem insignificant, but what if they hadn’t done it? And so I thought of all of the seemingly insignificant things that I can do to protect the valuable resources of our world.
While I sat in a room with the older men from the community, my colleagues were having similar conversation with groups of young men, young women, and older women. Each group had their own concerns, their own perspectives about the future.
For me, climate change is a big issue. I don’t know all the science. I can’t see the future, and am not sure anyone can. But still, it’s important that we’re talking about it. It’s important that we’re working now to understand how communities are vulnerable, and how we can make them more resilient.
Perhaps most importantly, we’re doing so by combining the insights and experiences not just of the global experts, but those of local experts like the men and women and the youth and adults of places like San Pablo, Guatemala as well.
– Joe Weber is CRS’ International Development Fellow for the Latin American Emergency Response Team (ALERT) based in Santo Domingo
Tags: Latin America
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