Putting aside the climate change debate

March 31, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mervyn Lee/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The Qaxo community completed a large natural resources management project to reduce water erosion and restore land for use. The project, consisting of earth and rock bunds planted with aloe vera, stretched over five kilometers and was completed by 250 people in 16 days. Photo: Mervyn Lee/Mercy Corps

I can still remember being recruited by my friend, Reena, for the “Save the Earth Club” in high school. My first activity was helping out at a community garden and learning more about the importance of respecting the environment. It must have had some effect on me, because now I do my best to recycle, compost, take public transportation and conserve water. Target area for improvement: my heating bill. What can I say, I’m an islander living in San Francisco!

Climate change has become an even hotter topic than it was a decade ago. There are those who feel the issue requires immediate attention and those who argue it is simply propaganda. Then there are those who must deal directly with current environmental challenges and harsh circumstances, regardless of where you or I may fall on the debate spectrum.

For example, communities in Ethiopia face extreme conditions ranging from floods to droughts. In the past, soil degradation and recurrent drought have resulted in inadequate pasture supply for livestock. In "Protecting Ethiopia’s people, animals and environment", Emma Proud describes how the people of Samatar have put together a proposal, demonstrating how they will address these sorts of challenges and what assistance is needed from Mercy Corps in order to be successful.

Programs have already begun, with locals receiving a daily stipend to dig water diversion channels. These trenches will trap run-off, allowing water to soak back into the soil and regenerate pasture. As Proud notes, “In this way, this simple cash-for-work activity will protect the environment, the livestock that feed on it and the people who rely on the animals for their livelihoods.”

April 22 marks Earth Day, and the Climate Change debate continues. Roughly 15 years after I first joined the “Save the Earth Club,” I am still discovering how people and the environment affect each other, and how we might learn to get along.