This year, April 22nd marks 50 years of Earth Day. This 50th anniversary will occur at a turning point in history and it will center around an idea that many of us know is necessary to preserve our future: climate action.
As a Community and International Development major, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Africa twice, first to Ghana and then to Kenya. I want to take this time to share some of what I have learned and talk about how these trips have changed my way of thinking around climate action.
In January of this year, I was among a group of UVM students that embarked on a 10-day service-learning trip to Kenya. This trip followed a semester-long course that involved collaborating with UVM’s long-standing community partners in rural Kenya to discuss and plan a number of sustainable development projects. Our work involved regular communication through email and zoom, extensive planning of our projects, fundraising, and so much more! The trip was a huge success, and it was an incredible opportunity to put sustainability into practice.
In addition to months of learning about sustainable development in Kenya, our group also was able to spend two days on safari in Kenya’s beautiful National Reserve, the Masai Mara. The amount of wildlife that we saw was truly remarkable. Yet, this trip (coupled with my 2017 trip to Ghana), woke me up to some of the harsh realities that the continent of Africa, its people, and much of its wildlife face as a result of a made-man climate crisis that disproportionately harms the developing world.
According to the official Earth Day website, Africa will be the continent most impacted by climate change. This fact is particularly concerning because Africa has contributed the least to our climate crisis. In total, the 54 countries that make up the continent emit only 3.8% of global greenhouse gases, while the United States emits 19%.
Throughout my learning and travels to Africa, I constantly found myself asking the following questions: how can we expect countries trying to develop their economies to take more serious sustainability measures when, in the United States, we are unable to make compromises to reduce our own environmentally harmful habits? Furthermore, why should I believe I am entitled to excessive consumption of harmful materials, such as plastic, just because I’ve had the privilege of living in a developed economy in the United States and these things are readily available to me? These thoughts have been unsettling to me, and now in the midst of a global crisis, they are not going away.
Much has changed since my trip to Kenya in January. We are all rethinking the world as we once knew it, and we are watching our own economy struggle immensely. It is no secret that this pandemic has reached every corner of the world and it has taken its toll on the health and the livelihood of millions. I recently read an article from National Geographic about the effects of COVID-19 on Kenya’s vulnerable capital, Nairobi, where informal settlements are common. Safety measures such as quarantine and social distancing are a luxury only a few can afford.
We are often reminded to check our privilege and to be grateful for the food on the table and the shelter over our heads; this gratitude is more pertinent now than ever before.
Additionally, as we celebrate 50 years of Earth day and remember the urgency of our climate problem, I want us to also recognize how our consumption patterns, and the things we think we need, stand to affect people and communities in faraway places.
Please consider learning more about how you can reduce your own carbon footprint by reading some of our other articles this week. And, as always, take care and stay healthy.
Edited by Emma McGeorge