Photograph: Babyruth Villarama / Creative Commons
If you drive under the influence in the state of California and hit another car, committing manslaughter (murder 3), you will go to jail for several years, pay a hefty fine, and have your license revoked. This is the State’s way of bringing people to justice who hurt others without intent, but ended with the same result of premeditated murder. The government holds those people responsible for their damaging actions, even though the party in question had no intent of inflicting pain on others. A society’s responsibility for it’s actions both mistakes and successes is crucial; and while the United States has this concept completely in check for physical injury to it’s own citizens, we cannot seem to apply the same to individuals in areas of the world hurt greatly by climate change.
The nation of Nepal in Southeast Asia is home to a part of the Himalayan Mountains. It has many glaciers and glacial lakes in the high country there, and, in the largely agricultural society, life is in a delicate balance. Due to the harmful emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere, the lakes are increasing in size, and threatening this balance. The glaciers have decreased on Mount Everest by over 2 miles since it was first climbed in 1953. The cavities that hold high mountain lakes can only hold so much glacial melt, and the increase in their volume would result in an overflow into the agrarian lands below. Already lakes have overflowed, one releasing over 8 million tons of water into the inhabited valleys below.
Scientists are sure that this glacial melt is a result of GHG emissions and we know that GHG’s are largely emitted by human activity. Science can even tell us how much each country in the world is contributing to the greenhouse effect on our planet. The small nation of Nepal, that is being reamed with natural disasters and glacial melt, emits 0.11% of total carbon emissions. Just about one tenth of a percent. The US emits about 18% of total emissions. That’s 17.9% more than Nepal, for those of us who are keeping score. The United States is indirectly responsible for the destruction of Nepal’s once balanced ecosystem. The United states is indirectly responsible for the infrastructure, culture, and lives lost as a reslut of climate change. It is clear that we caused unintended harm on the Nepalese people, but do we accept this responsibility? Do we respect the destruction the Nepalese people as much as we honor our own laws?
From the actions of our policy makers, negotiators, and leaders, it appears not.
For more information about Nepal’s crisis and youth activism, please see: http://nepaleseyouthforclimateaction.wordpress.com/about/
Read more blogs from our climate champions at COP15 – http://climatechampions.britishcouncil.org/