Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hands rough as sandpaper

Is climate change real?  If so, have humans caused it?  Too often the debate is just words, unrelated to real world consequences, except when politicians use it for political advantage, or maybe when we've got to use more air conditioning or do more shoveling than we used to. 

Mario Machado, a student in a class Ken and I co-taught a few years ago, is now a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay.  And a blogger; he blogs here and here.  His thoughts and experiences are always interesting and well-worth reading, but his July 29th post on the Tones of Home blog is, we thought, worth mentioning on MT for what it tells us about the frequent disconnect between science and people just living their lives.

Mario calls his post "The Other Side of the Climate Debate" in part, we're guessing, because he's on the other side of the world now, and in part because he's looking at climate change through the eyes of rural farmers in a poor part of Paraguay where people frequently are living hand-to-mouth.  He's seeing what they see, hearing their thoughts about the very real effect a changing climate is having on their lives and their prospects for staying on the land -- while scientists, politicians, business people and the rest of us in the rich world debate whether or not it's real.

The people he's working with have no doubt.  They can work the fields in sandals and t-shirts this winter, the rains come unpredictably or not at all.  The effects are manageable so far, but they anticipate they won't stay that way.  As Mario says, "these are the very people who will shoulder the brunt of the burden that a gradually warming planet will bring."
The science, even at its best, cannot adequately convey in humanistic terms the social impacts of rising global temperatures. To grasp this properly, sit in a field with a farmer somewhere in the third world, ask him about his family and how his crops have been in the past few seasons. Ask his wife how far she must walk for water or what she does to care for her sickly child. Over dinner, look at their calluses as they handle their fork and pray that their hands will always feel as rough as sandpaper, for the day these scars of the trade have faded is the day that the land has nothing left to give.
Thanks again, Mario, for a reminder that there are people at the other end of this debate, and science has consequences.  The issue is not just to provide jobs and journals and media to argue in for the advancement of well-paid, secure careers.  It's real.

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