Sunday, 22 November 2009

A Mongolian Climate Story

Mongolia is facing a bleak future. Already an arid land struggling to support a population that remains largely subsistence, climate change threatens to further dessicate it, wringing out the last precious drops of life-giving moisture. Everyone here describes the same story of less rain year on year, rivers and lakes drying up and their fears about the continuing viability of their traditional nomadic lifestyle. They may live simple lives but Mongolians are far from ignorant about the origins of their plight. Their radios and satellite televisions, powered by solar panels, have given them science's explanation for what ails them.

A once huge lake in central Mongolia reduced to a puddle

Mongolians, in common with most people it seems, like to say their government is not doing enough about climate change. They plant a few trees here and there but there's more talk than action. The reality is, as far as mitigation is concerned, there's little Mongolia is able to implement, especially in rural areas where lifestyles could barely be more low carbon. As is the case for the majority of the world, the extent of the powers the country possesses to deal with climate change are generally restricted to adaptation, in other words mopping up someone elses mess.

Climate change is drying up this Mongolian waterfall

The litter that is clearly a problem here does not betray a lack of respect for the environment, as you might assume. Mongolians, like all traditional societies, are not yet used to disposing of anything that doesn't become food for something else. On the contrary, looking after their environment is heavily embedded in Mongolian culture. Shamanic folklore terrifies Mongolian children with tales of the perils of disrespecting the natural world.

The solar panel is a common sight in Mongolia

Mongolia cannot afford the luxury of climate change denial because the evidence of climate change is plain for all to see here and now. Despite that Mongolians have not caused the problems that now threaten their ancient way of life, they don't seem angry or bitter, despite a little baiting. Mongolians seem to point blank refuse to badmouth other countries, aside from Chinese, for whom they bear a vitriolic historical grudge. It's both humbling and heartwarming to have discovered that the consensus emerging from this vulnerable country is that it's everyone's responsibility to tackle the problem of climate change.

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