• Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022
  • Last Update : 04:24 pm

Staring into the eye of the storm

  • Published at 11:57 pm July 12th, 2017
Staring into the eye of the storm
I grew up at the eccentric beach town of Santa Cruz, California. Located about an hour drive south of San Francisco, the town is best known for surfing, its counterculture culture; and the local university’s selection of a yellow slug as its mascot. A common rite of passage for students in Californian primary and middle schools is the completion of a science fair project, in which typically begrudging 7-14 year olds solicit their parents’ help in orchestrating a small science experiment. Usually, the students complete experiments with titles like: “Does music make plants grow faster?” and “Which mouth is cleanest -- a dog, a cat, or a human?” A poster of results is created, a presentation given, and the kid never thinks of the project again. This was not the case for me. As a child I used to climb down the sea cliffs that divided the land from the ocean, and at low tide I would examine the tiny universes contained in the local tide pools. They teemed with mussels, floating jellies, tiny crabs, and -- my favorite -- giant green sea anemones. The green anemones were outnumbered by a similar, striped anemone however, and I wondered why. This simple question opened my 13-year-old mind to the subject of global warming and climate change. Turns out, the striped Sunburst anemone prefers warm water, and the Giant Green anemone prefers cooler ocean temperatures. I predicted that as ocean temperatures rise due to anthropogenic climate change -- my beloved green anemones would no longer be found in Santa Cruz in the coming decades.
Bangladesh has, for far too long, been portrayed in the media as hopeless. It is time to flip the script and share what the Western world can learn from this South Asian tiger
This project won me first place in the Environmental Science division of the California State Science Fair, and naturally, my friends and family divined that I would become a world-class natural scientist. They were resoundingly proven wrong when instead I took all my college courses in government, international relations, and social science. But the specter of climate change never left my mind, and the reality of it did not stop shaping my world. I am currently pursuing my Masters in International Environmental Policy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) in Monterey, and I hope to follow a career that translates the natural and social science of climate change impacts into policy and real, tangible solutions. My search for solutions led me to Bangladesh. To be perfectly honest, not many Americans know much about Bangladesh, and if they do, it’s because they’ve heard horror stories about the garment industry. We generally know little about the existential crisis posed to the country by climate change, and even less about the herculean effort Bangladesh is investing in adapting to this challenge. With funding from MIIS’s Center for Social Impact Learning and in partnership with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), I will be travelling the country for the next two months highlighting stories of community based adaptation -- showcasing examples of everyday resilient Bangladeshis adapting and surviving in ever-changing times. Western journalists -- as well-meaning and preoccupied with the state of humanity as they tend to be -- often swoop into communities in the developing world, tell a tragic story, and leave. This dynamic fosters international awareness of troubling issues and spreads news on the global stage, but it often leaves those interviewed feeling like victims. The narrative is typically that they are helpless, that the world should pay attention, and perhaps send some aid. While I am adopting a journalistic approach in disseminating stories of community based adaptation in Bangladesh, my goal is to highlight positive examples of resilience. Bangladesh has, for far too long, been portrayed in the media as hopeless. It is time to flip the script and share what the Western world can learn from this South Asian tiger. My project will take me to communities throughout Bangladesh facing climate change impacts, including increasing incidence of flooding, cyclones, drought, and erosion. Many Bangladeshis are already piloting innovative adaptive strategies, from planting inundation-tolerant rice varieties to cultivating floating garden beds. They are working more, saving more, and preparing for risks. “Disaster in this country is nothing new,” says Sarder Shafiqul Alam, Coordinator of the Urban Climate Change Program and the Country Coordinator for ICCCAD. “The people adopt long-term coping practices, and we call it ‘adaptation.’” The issue of survival, known in climate change policy circles as “adaptation,” should concern everyone. Because climate change stops at no border and spares no one, it is in the international community’s interest to share best practices and lessons learned across continents, including from the global South to the global North. What can coastal Florida learn from adaptation strategies implemented in communities at sea level in Bangladesh? What can Californian farmers learn from Bangladesh’s drought-prone regions, and what can Texas learn from the country’s experience with flash floods? These questions, and the answers as to how individuals and communities respond to climate change, will become increasingly important as its impacts accrue in this century. The United States executive branch can continue to bury its head in the sand, but states and cities must rise to meet the challenge of climate change. Citizens must be given the knowledge and the opportunity to adapt, and in this way we have everything to learn from Bangladesh, a country that is earnestly developing the resources necessary for adaptation and applying these tools to help the most vulnerable. As Bangladesh stares into the eye of the proverbial storm, it quite literally faces the choice between life and death, and it has chosen to live.   Mariko Powers is a Middlebury Social Impact Scholar and a Visiting Researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD). She is a MA candidate at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies in Monterey, California