The impacts of climate change are evident, and for me, resonate wherever I go.
What do Zambia, the Senate and north-central Minnesota have in common?
Me and climate change.
I grew up in a small town about 100 miles north of Minneapolis on the south end of Mille Lacs Lake. When I’m traveling for my work at Oxfam, I find it entertaining to see the reaction when I tell someone I am a villager. I am definitely NOT the image that comes to the mind of a Zambian when they think of “a villager.” I grew up in a town of less than 800 people, worlds apart from my current urban life in Washington DC, but also worlds apart from the life of a villager in rural Zambia.
I was recently in Zimbabwe and Zambia for my work on climate change with Oxfam. I thought it fitting that the 11th Board Meeting of the Green Climate Fund was being held in Livingstone, where delegates could see first had the twin challenges of climate change and development that not only face Zambia, but many other nations around the world today. In Zambia, even from the comforts of the lodge I stayed in, there were power cuts daily. The lodge had a generator, but it could only cover 4 of the 8 hours the power was out. Thankfully my room came with candles (and a friendly hippo outside my door).
Zambia relies on hydropower for more than 90 percent of its electricity and one of the three main dams is at Victoria Falls, located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe near Livingstone. Due to a drought this year, the country has encountered a power deficit, which some estimate is equal to 25 percent of Zambia’s total generating capacity. Zambia’s drought is a real and devastating example of climate change: rainfall patterns shift, the flow of water through the nation’s dams decreases, and reduces the electricity produced.
Zambia’s economy has been growing at a good pace over the last 10 years, in large part due to industrial development fueled by the electricity generated by these dams. But longer dry periods caused by climate change put Zambia’s future growth at risk as they struggle to keep pace with the changes on several fronts; including providing energy access for than 9 million people – approximately 78 percent of whom still lack it.
But ensuring clean, reliable access to energy isn’t the only climate-related development challenge facing countries like Zambia. Last Friday as I prepared for a briefing for Senate staffers on the importance of the climate talks in Paris in December I highlighted some of the things we take for granted here in the US to help illustrate the challenges facing farmers in developing countries like Zambia.
I recalled numerous conversations with my parents and neighbors about the August weather when I was home visiting in Minnesota. The little discussions were incredibly frequent. From remarks about the two inches of rain in the gauge when we got home one evening, to planning which day to work in the garden, to rushing to put things in the garage as a severe thunderstorm moved across the lake – the whims of the weather had a much more tangible impact on daily life than it usually does for me in DC. And as I prepared my remarks for the Hill, I was struck by the incredible access to information and services most Americans have compared to many of the least developed countries in the world.
There’s no doubt, farmers in the US struggle with drought in places like California. But imagine being dependent on that rain to grow enough food to feed your family and earn money to send your children to school? Imagine trying to do grow that food without access to irrigation or crop insurance for those times your crop fails. Imagine not being able to turn on the TV or the radio to get the latest weather forecast. That is the reality that many families around the world are facing. Changing weather patterns and more intense storms are making day-to-day life even more challenging for many millions of people.
In my mind, there are many reasons why climate action is so important. Whether you are in Washington DC, northern Minnesota or Zambia there is a reason to care about the climate talks in Paris. None of us are exempt from the impacts of climate change, though it’s clear that some (namely, the poorest) will be hit harder than others. That is why my Oxfam colleagues and I will be working hard to make sure the climate deal works for vulnerable communities around the world, and we’re counting on voices from northern Minnesota to Zambia to join us.