Climate change, changes to long-standing weather patterns in response to changes in the atmosphere (forcings), is happening today, perhaps has always been happening. In our world today, the largest forcing is human produced greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and other byproducts of various human activities.
Change can mean different things for different people depending on where one is. It could mean more rainfall, warmer dry spells, frequent intense storms, less rainfall, in the wrong months. It could also mean higher sea levels, lower diversity of animal and plant life and larger disease vector regions. One way to get a handle on these changes is to see how they affect people. With the caveat that rarely are climate change induced effects working in a vacuum. Ultimately, political and social environments contribute to and sometimes exarcerbate changes and determine or limit how well people can adjust to them. But adjust to new normals we all will have to.
These are stories I wrote in 2011 with inspiration from a report on climate change in East Africa to humanise the experience of people who have to grapple with changes in their environments.
“The rain came and we were happy: our farms on the slopes of Mt Elgon would thrive.
The rain kept falling, it did not stop.
One morning we woke up to find part of our community buried in soil. It was not the first time a landslide has happened. The government was going to relocate the whole community to a nearby town but I decided to go to Kampala, the capital. It is bigger and I knew someone there. I would have more options for making a living- now I drive motorcycle taxis here. But the rains keep falling.”
“You know the land up here has never been all that good…
I used to live on the farm with my parents, but recently the rains have been coming at the wrong time of the year and only fell for a short amount of time. I thought to myself ‘this life is too precarious’ So I joined a group of other Tigres on their way to Addis Ababa. I went up to Weldiya with them and enrolled in school to continue my education. But I’ll go back to the farm- I prefer it there. We just need to irrigate the land; it was never that good.”
“My grandmother used to tell me of the time we moved from dryland pastures to wet season grazing with our livestock. Back then all the land was ours. Then one day we didn’t own the land anymore; sugar and cotton plantations did. We settled alongside farmers whose lands had also disappeared.
There were many of us- I was a child then. When droughts became more frequent, water became more scarce- for plants, for animals, for people. We increasingly became restless and tensions simmered. This was Darfur.”