Four mid-career environmental professionals from Brazil, Laos, Tanzania and Zimbabwe convened virtually on Tuesday, April 18 to discuss the global dimensions of climate change as part of Verdant Views, a Cornell Botanic Gardens webinar series.
The purpose of the webinar, titled Global Climate Stories, was to emphasize that climate change occurs on an international scale and sees a diverse array of responses. The webinar also sought to acknowledge that climate change disproportionately affects people in developing nations that are less responsible for global warming, according to Kevin Moss, the student and public engagement coordinator for the Cornell Botanic Gardens and host of Verdant Views.
Moderated by Carlos Magno De Medeiros Morais, the webinar featured three speakers — Fanuel Joseph Massawe, Chindavone Sanlath and Edith Mugehu. All four participants are members of the highly selective Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, which provides a global cohort of mid-career professionals an international enrichment opportunity in leadership and public service.
While climate change is often referred to as a problem for the future, many people are presently subjected to its devastating effects — especially in the Global South, which refers to a group of developing nations in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. In Laos, yearly flooding reduces crop yields, threatening the livelihood of a nation where 71 percent of the population engages in some form of agriculture. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, changing seasons and frequent droughts trouble local farmers. Mugehu, whose work in Zimbabwe uses biotechnology and plant breeding techniques on seeds to improve crop yields, has seen firsthand the struggles of Zimbabwean farmers.
“My grandmother would grow crops like corn, millet [and] sorghum, and keep chickens and goats. And I knew that our income was wholly dependent on that small-scale farming enterprise,” Mugehu said. “I witnessed firsthand the effect of a lack of efficient seed systems, lack of access to seed — the effect of the environment on the farming enterprise.”
Morais shared a similar story about how the inequality he witnessed in a family of small-scale farmers motivates his work in Brazil today. As the coordinator of social mobilization at the Sabiá Agroecological Development Center, Morais uses communication tools to provide a voice for traditional communities and peoples living in rural Brazil.
The participants work in a wide range of fields indicative of the varying ways in which climate change must be tackled. As an environmental and social consultant at Earth Systems Mekong, Sanlath works to promote circular practices that reduce waste by reusing, repairing and recycling used products rather than disposing of them in place of new ones. Whereas in Tanzania, Massawe serves as the leader for his nonprofit, Saving Africa’s Nature, which utilizes a community-based approach to foster harmonious environmental practices among communities.
“You have to recognize some of the push and pull factors that make communities destroy the environment,” Massawe said. “Mostly it goes down to the issue of livelihood. So our programs mostly focus on education, empowerment and conservation.”
The webinar’s participants emphasized the necessity for global understanding in addressing climate change and stressed the importance of recognizing the varying economic, social and political states of nations. Climate solutions that may be feasible in developed nations may not be realistic in Brazil, Laos, Zimbabwe or Tanzania.
In Tanzania, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline has accrued global scrutiny from developing countries due to its negative environmental impact. However, Massawe argued that the environmental impact of the pipeline will be necessary in the long run to foster a self-sufficient nation.
Mugehu similarly noted the difference in agriculture practices in the United States and Zimbabwe.
“When I have conversations with American farmers or American researchers who want to help small-scale farmers in Zimbabwe, I think the context is different because [in America], the problems that farmers face — they are slightly different because farming here is highly mechanized,” Mugehu said.
Through the event, Moss hoped to educate listeners on the state of climate change in developing countries.
“[Global Climate Stories] aimed to raise awareness… that there is a lot of work being done in [developing] countries all around the world to respond to climate change and there’s a lot of positive actions really being taken in the face of some very difficult challenges,” Moss said.
Despite the difficult challenges that their nations face and the uncertainty of the future, the Verdant Views presenters derive hope from the awareness of climate issues expressed by people from home, such as small-scale farmers or the youth.
“Young people are now more engaged — they want their voice to be heard, and they are taking an active role in advocating for climate change and climate justice,” Massawe said. “It gives me hope.”
The next episode of Verdant Views, Conserving Nature — The Global Role of Botanic Gardens, will be held on Tuesday, May 16 and will focus on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s initiatives to engage botanic gardens, zoos and aquariums in global conservation work.
Christopher Walker is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].