Presidents and prime ministers, secretaries and kings are in Egypt for the annual United Nations climate change negotiations. And when world leaders talk about climate change, they evoke one group more than any other: children.
The plight of future generations and the need to protect today’s children from a future made unlivable by global warming is the moral core of international climate negotiations. the United Nations estimates Around a billion children are at extremely high risk from climate change, whether it be from rising sea levels, heavy rains, drought or deadly heat waves.
But what is life like for children living on the front lines of climate change? How is information about a changing planet passed on to the heirs of a hotter Earth? And in places where the Internet is not ubiquitous, how do young people understand the changes they are witnessing?
We visited a school in Nepal’s Rolwaling Valley and spoke with students and teachers about their experiences, frustrations and hopes for the future.
A school surrounded by beauty and danger
The Rolwaling Sangag Choling monastery school is located in a steep valley. In the background is the Rolwaling River. Behind the school, the rocky cliffs of the Himalayan mountains rise dramatically to peaks of over 23,000 feet. It is a two-day walk from the school to the nearest road. The area had only sporadic solar power until earlier this year.
The school is home to nearly two dozen children who live and study there most of the year, except for a brief period in the winter when they return to their nearby hometowns.
It is a life that is intensely, inevitably, connected with nature. And the students, especially the older ones, have noticed that nature changes.
“We can see a lot of mountains here,” says Mingma Thamang, an 18-year-old student at the school who has climbed a nearby glacial lake several times in recent years. He says that he has heard rumors that the lake, which is upstream from his school, could cause a major flood in the future.
In fact, the lake is at critical risk of flooding, according to scientists. And the school is located very close to the river, and would probably be damaged or destroyed in such a disaster.
Bolendra Acharya has taught at the school for 12 years and says there are other obvious changes as well. Snow that used to cover nearby mountains in thick blankets is now patchy and thin. Now bare rock shows through even on the highest peaks. And the rain that used to come on a reliable schedule in the summer is now more variable.
Unreliable rainfall is a problem because most people who live in the area farm, raise cattle, or work in the mountain hiking industry. When the rain comes late, or suddenly, it damages crops and makes it difficult to safely cross the river. Domestic yaks and other animals cannot access grazing areas.
And as the area becomes more popular with local Nepalese tourists, it also becomes more dangerous for hikers using narrow riverside trails and suspension bridges due to high waters from heavy rains and melting glaciers.
Acharya grew up nearby and says that when he was young, life in the valley was very different. “Our life was safe. We would just cross the river,” he says. “But now it seems like, at any moment, it could drag us down. There’s a kind of fear between us. Anything could happen.”
A desire to know more about a changing planet.
Acharya makes an effort to talk to his students about the environment. “From my point of view, I’m very interested in introducing students to climate change,” he says, “because they live in an area where there is a lot to learn.”
Right now, there is no formal climate change curriculum, although they do study general science. The main goal of the school is to educate students to become lamas, Buddhist religious leaders. Students study math, history, science and other academic subjects for the first five years and those who continue for the remaining three years focus on religious and language training.
“We learned about the weather, about different kinds of animals,” says Thamang.
Lhakpa Sonam Sherpa, who recently graduated from the school, says he learned about the plants and animals of the region and about the wider geography of Nepal.
But students at the school say they know very little about where their home fits into the bigger picture of global climate change, and would like to know more.
“We want to learn more about the environment,” says Thamang. “Because then maybe we can do something to make it cleaner and safer.”
The teacher, Acharya, says that even if most of his students will be working in religious roles that don’t directly interact with environmental policy, it’s still important to bring climate change into the classroom. These future religious leaders will be the ones the local population will turn to when trying to make sense of their changing environment. And decisions to protect local forests or adapt to flood risk will likely include consultation with religious authorities in this heavily Buddhist area.
To that end, Acharya says he wants his students to understand that the changes they are witnessing are being caused by people in other parts of the world.
“It is not the people who pollute the environment. It is the factories in the cities, especially in the larger world. It is not the people like us, who live in rural areas, who are contributing to the damage of the Earth,” he says. . “Local students need knowledge about climate change, so they can make their own decisions and protect themselves.”
Leave a Comment