Franziska Peter

Giving responsibility to the people: A bottom-up approach to climate change

January 16, 2012

392918_212818225457822_212817848791193_551689_1044433172_n (1)It is in everybody’s mouth: Climate Change. Yet, hardly anyone knows what it really is about. How causes are linked to effects and how to react. Regarding myself, I was lucky enough to study environmental sciences. I dedicated five years of my life to understand how things are connected in our environment and how human behaviour is connected to and affecting climate change.

And yet, I am learning new things and faces of climate change everyday and the one thing I am sure about, is that despite all this, there are so many mechanisms that I don’t know or don’t understand. And of course it is not only me who is feeling this lack of knowledge, along with me there are thousands of scientists around the globe that want to know more about what I consider to be one of the world’s biggest problem.

However, climate change is far from being only a scientific question that is interesting to think about. Climate change is affecting our whole planet, each and every inhabitant on earth. The atmosphere covers the whole planet and in a way, we are all breathing the same air. Therefore, everyone living on the planet has the right to know what climate change is and how it is affecting his or her life. In Bangladesh, this right to know is of particular importance. Here, people are strongly affected by the detrimental effects of climate change that already today increases everyday’s hardship. Spreading this knowledge in a understandable way is an ambitious task and also part of the problem of fighting climate change. It is such a complex and abstract term and though people face it’s reality already today, it can be hard to understand how individual suffering is connected to it.

In mid December 2011 I joined 3000 miles to go – the nationwide journey on climate change campaign. They set themselves this task of making the people of Bangladesh understand climate change. The team already started in October from Panchagarh, the Northernmost district of Bangladesh. They have traveled through each and every district of Bangladesh – 3000 miles – and in each of the district capitals, they showed a series of short movies tackling climate change and how it is affecting Bangladesh.

In between the movies the main mechanisms leading to global warming and the effects affecting Bangladesh are explained and discussed. In a project lead by the British Council and Tanjilur Rahman, environmental filmmaker from Wildeye, ten young climate champions from Bangladesh and Nepal were supported in producing the movies. They are a collection of stories that raise crucial questions about what is happening around us and urges the next generation to wake up and protect their future.

It was after producing these movies, when Tanjil, innitator of the 3000 miles to go campaign, was convinced that they need to be spread and made available to the people of Bangladesh. It seems to be obvious that to spread a movie, the simplest way is to broadcast them on television. It will bring them right into the living room of  thousands of people. Travelling three thousand miles in three months to show the movies 64 times to an audience of 250 to 2500 people each time can seem odd.

However, the team is convinced that showing the movies only on television is not enough to really reach people: In television, the movies, three to five minutes each, will be shown inbetween advertisements that promise a happy life if you buy a certain product. The movies will be screened in competition with other programms such as daily soaps and cheerful music clips. How many people will decide to watch our movies which requires them to concentrate and think? And even if people can be attracted by information that is serious and difficult, how longlasting will the impact be? From televsion, most people do not want to learn and think, most people want to be entertained.

Before I decided to join the campaign, despite the very tempting opportunity to see many parts of Bangladesh and to get to know about the people’s reality of climate change, I had some doubts and open questions. How can you possibly approach the people of Bangladesh, who without doubt will pay heavy for the global greenhouse gas emissions, with information about how to reduce emissions in everyday life? How can particularly I, as a person from the west,  do this, when my lifestyle at home is probably producing more emissions than the lifestyles of many people in the audience?

After travelling with the team for one month, attending the shows and listening to the audience comments and responses, I understood the importance of bringing exactly this message to the people. There is so much potential for a sustainable lifestyle in Bangladesh. Something that in some aspects is far more difficult in Europe. For example, in Bangladesh, it is easy and common to buy goods on the market. Most goods come from a local producer and will be wrapped in recycled paper sheets.

In Europe, except once or twice per week, when there might be a farmers market, supermarkets are full of packed products, origining from all over the world. Often, a single product, from the rawmaterial to the packiging, saw more of the world than me! Also, in Bangladesh, I noticed the many stalls selling imported plastic toys from China. They will break soon and be thrown away carelessly and pollute the environment. I am sure that not long ago, these people would have sold clay or wooden toys. Seeing these developments, I understood how important it is to let people know how their behavior affects the environment and by that enhance their ability and responsibility to decide what they want to buy and to consider what kind of developement they want.

Many people approached me before the shows start, to ask about the program, and when I told them that it was about climate change, I was confronted with two pieces of information that people are well aware of about climate change. Firstly, Bangladesh is and will be suffering from climate change. Secondly, the industrialized nations are to blame for climate change. There is not a lot to discuss about these two statements, because they are true. The thing that needs to be discussed, however, is why people know only these two facts. Why people are so fixed about blaming and seeing themselves as helpless victims?  Why, commonly, when it comes to discussing climate change, responsibility is given to the governments and the international community. Just not to the people. It is understandable that when considering the complexity and the magnitude of the climate change problem, one feels small, helpless and often also angry.

It was very intersting to see how the audience of the shows reacted after the show, when they listened and understood the big picture. The focus shifted from talking about guilt, victims, and blaming, towards discussing how the public people can make a difference. It is encouraging to know that there are so many engaged and motivated people across the country that want to make a difference, that want more information and want to help.

I joined the team as a scientist. And as scientist, there were different points of the presentation that can be critized for scientific correctness. Therein lies also part of the uniqueness of the campaign. It is not a scientific presentation on climate change. It is not about graphs and numbers and a sound scientific argumentation. It is about understanding the big picture. It is about people that haven’t been to school at all, yet they have a right to know at least the rough concept about what is happening to our earth.

With this knowledge, people can connect their suffering to a cause. Of course, just providing information without solution is not the way to take either, but when talking about climate change, the spreading of a basic knowledge and understanding is often neglected. It was interesting to see, how particularly people from areas that are not in the scope of mainstream climate change programs where listening very carefully to the program. I agree that beside the spreading of information, there is a huge need for concrete projects that can alliviate the burden. At some point there will also be a need for money that pays for mitigation and adaptation measures.

Yet, whilst pressure on the international community and on governments has to be maintained; the most recent climate summit in Durban just proved again that things are, if moving at all, proceeding very slowly. In the meantime it is better to overcome the search for scapegoats and the question about who is paying how much. Action needs to be taken in a bottum-up approach. At the end, a behavior change by the people is required to reduce emissions. This might be guided by governmental policies. If governments are not acting, or acting too slowly compared to the pace of climate change, people need to act on their own behalf.

During the journey with the 3000 miles to go team I could see how at the end of the show people begin to feel and understand their own responsibility and by providing them with the necessary knowledge they are eager to and able to take that responsibility and act accordingly. It is a long way to rise awareness on climate change. The first 3000 miles to rise awareness and understanding of climate change are about to end, but the teams commitment for a sustainable future goes on. Already, there are plenty of ideas about how to continue the provision of information on climate change to the people who demand and deserve it.

The campaign’s last show was held in Dhaka, the 64th district covered on  16th January in the Teachers-Students-Centre in Dhaka University. –

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Franziska Peter has completed her Mastres on environmental science from the Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland and worked as a volunteer in 3000 miles to go.

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