In the course of my daily life here in Washington, climate change is discussed in small conversations, seen and heard on the news, and is an occasional contentious political issue. But truth be told, it feels like a remote subject. Rush hour traffic is as thick as ever, thermostats continue to be turned up, and the recent snow piled as high as I’ve ever seen.
It wasn’t until on a recent trip to Nepal and Sri Lanka for work that I could truly perceive some tangible effects and possible negative impacts of climate change. While driving through dimly lit Kathmandu, which was plagued by 9 hours of blackouts a day, I wondered what was affecting water tables so that less than optimal amounts of hydro power were being generated.
While flying along the Himalayas towards Mount Everest, I was stunned by the natural beauty around me. The world's tallest mountain range with over 2000 glaciers were truly breathtaking. However, I was perplexed by the lack of snow in comparison with what I had previously seen on television and photographs based on casual observation. I was not alone. According to National Geographic in 2002, glaciers on Everest had retreated three miles since Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary first made the climb to the top in 1953. A recent news story cites from a UN report from January 2010 that “widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century."
According Apa the Sherpa (Nepali mountain guides) who has scaled Everest a record 19 times, melting glaciers are creating lakes that might flood villages and making routes for mountaineers less stable and more difficult to follow.
In Sri Lanka, it was hard not to notice the hundreds of miles of low lying coastlines and continuing reconstruction from the tsunami in 2004 (unrelated to climate change).
Sri Lanka has a richness of wildlife including elephants and monkeys, along with 26 endemic species of birds that may be affected by climate change. In a conversation with Environmental Specialist, Darshani de Silva, I was told that, “rising temperatures over the next couple of decades will devastate Sri Lanka's dry zone agriculture, the increased magnitude and frequency of rainfall will threaten the lives of people who are living in low lying, flood and land slide prone areas and a possible sea level rise will affect the coastal urban centers and coastal economy.”
What’s even more disturbing is the situation in the Maldives which is comprised of about 1,200 islands. The highest point on any island is only 2.4m. As my colleague Benjamin Crow pointed out in November, the president held an underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the potential disaster of rising sea levels on its archipelagos.
As a result of my trip to Nepal and Sri Lanka, it dawned on me that climate change has much broader implications than the eye can see from here in Washington, and it’s imperative that we see the issue from a global perspective.
Regardless of the current dynamics on the issue, there are many effortless things we can do to minimize our impact on the environment.