‘If you look at the science… and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people working to restore the earth and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.’ – Paul Hawken
In 2001, floods in Malawi destroyed crops, homes and possessions, displacing thousands of people. By 27 February 2002 a state of emergency was declared by the president, although more than seven million people, three quarters of the county’s population, were already on the verge of starvation. William Kamkwamba was 14 in 2002, the son of a maize farmer. He had to drop out of school when his family couldn’t afford food for all six of William’s siblings, let alone school fees. When out in the fields with his father during the worst of the famine he said : ‘I looked at my father and looked at those dry fields. It was the future I couldn’t accept.’ So he got to work. Working from rough plans he found in a library book, William used blue gum trees, bicycle parts, and materials from a scrapyard to build a windmill that was able to power four lights and two radios in his home. Since then he’s built a solar-powered water pump that has given his village clean water to drink for the first time, and two more electricity-producing windmills.
There are a loads of reasons why we should be trying to reduce our carbon footprint. Type it into Google and you could spend a few happy hours (or days) swatting up on the effect global warming has on our planet. But I want to focus on just one: climate change is a justice issue. Put simply, those who contribute the least to our changing climate who suffer the most. And that isn’t fair.
Sir. John Houghton is a leading climate change scientist and a Christian. He says: ‘Climate has been changing for a long time in many ways, but it’s changing particularly now because of what humans are doing… A warmer world means a changing climate and some of the impacts of that are really rather serious. That means we’re going to get more droughts and more floods.’ More droughts mean a greater risk of famine, more floods mean greater destruction of homes and livelihoods, and the potential for infectious diseases to spread. There are already 300,000 people who die each year as a result of climate change, but by 2050, rising sea levels and crop failures could create 150 million refugees. The poorest are the worst hit because they don’t have the resources needed to prepare and defend against the impacts of extreme weather and crop failure. Many live in fragile housing and rely heavily on agriculture for their food and income, and lack the money to recover from a disaster.
William did something incredible. A young boy with a hungry belly and hardly any education changed his whole village. We’re unlikely to feel able to do something like William did. But we can do something. We don’t need to build a windmill, but we could eat less meat. We could waste less, and shop differently. Something incredibly small, but significant. We must find the path between understanding the scale of the issue on our hands, but also the hope that things can be different. It is a road less travelled, requiring perseverance and creativity, but ultimately takes us on a journey of transformative hope. We need to look out and say ‘this is the future we cannot accept.’ Someone once said that global transformation begins with personal transformation. The planet and its people need our small steps.