Learning to combat climate change abroad
Caroline Bowes is a junior sustainability and global studies major working to combat climate change
Photo Courtesy of Caroline Bowes
Places are going to get colder, places are going to get drier, places are going to get really bad storms. It’s all-affecting,” said junior sustainability and global studies major Caroline Bowes.
Bowes spent the past semester studying climate justice abroad in areas that were being affected by climate change in drastically different ways.
“We launched out of San Francisco, so I was there for about two weeks, and then I went to Vietnam, Morocco and Bolivia for about a month each,” she said.
Bowes took economics, research methods, anthropology and ecology courses that helped broaden her understanding of current environmental issues.
“It was very moving to be experiencing what we were learning and seeing how it affected people in the local communities that we visited,” Bowes said.
Bowes’ travels included visiting farms and energy, solar and hydroelectric power plants.
“Just to see actually on the ground how people were affected rather than just reading from a book and trying to understand it that way, you really got a sense of what the articles were trying to say to you, or what the book was trying to say to you,” she said.
Each place Bowes visited was on a completely different environmental scale from one another.
“[San Francisco is] a very unique area, and obviously the political climate there is very forward and they’re very ahead of the game on sustainability initiatives,” Bowes said. “It was very empowering to go there and meet activists that were doing things in the country that I’m from.”
When traveling through Vietnam, Bowes experienced her first monsoon.
“In terms of sea level rise and in terms of monsoons and those types of storms hitting [Vietnam] that’s the first place that’s going to get hit. They’re already getting hit harder than they ever have [been and] flooding happens so often [in that area.]”
During her month in Morocco, Bowes found that desertification was prevalent and made it difficult for the residents to upkeep agriculture and obtain water.
“When you see people who are trying to fix the soil [doing] organic farming and [adding] nutrients back to the soil, trying to combat the hotel industry in taking over their shorelines and taking all their sand ... it is sad, but if you’re always sad, then nothing is going to get done,” she said.
In each region Bowes visited, she took note of the different environmental practices used to combat climate change.
“In Vietnam, I would say one of the bigger ones that they were doing was putting in [hydroelectric]-powered dams. A lot of the energy in Vietnam is still coal, the same with China. Coal is very bad, it’s worse than gas,” she said. “I actually found that to not be super sustainable. A lot of people were displaced by the introduction of these [hydroelectric]-powered plant dams.”
In Morocco, Bowes learned that even actions meant to combat climate change affected villagers negatively.
“Even renewable energy hurts people. We went to one of the biggest solar power plants in Morocco and it displaced an indigenous group,” she said. “I think we forget that if we want energy, there are tradeoffs. There are going to be people hurt whether it’s coal or wind.”
Bowes was also informed on how the balance of trade affects different regions of the world and impacts exporters like Morocco.
“One of their native plants is [the] argan [flower], [the plant that makes] argan oil. [Since] western [populations] want it so bad, [Moroccan locals] don’t have access to their [own] plant [anymore],” Bowes said. “It is a shame that we exploit people like that.”
“I think people forget that we have power. Vietnam [is] a communist country and Morocco is a monarchy, [the] people [there] have no say what happens. Even though we are a [flawed] democracy, we have the power to create a lot of good.”
Bowes religiously uses a reusable water bottle and makes sure to recycle wherever and whenever possible. She even rides her bike to work across campus. According to Bowes, making small contributions for a brighter environmental future makes all the difference.
“If you do that one thing, it starts a conversation, and you do another thing and it starts another conversation. Then all of a sudden we’re in a whole room full of people who actually care. That’s what I was doing for the last four months – and it really changed my life.”