“Think globally, act locally,” an idea sifting through the environmental movement for many decades, can teach an important lesson in the present for effective climate adaption.
How do we adapt to climate change? Because of lags in the climate system, climate will continue to change even if we stopped all emissions tomorrow, so what can we do in the short term to prepare for a long-term problem? Climate adaptation may sound abstract but it is a simple concept: anticipating future changes and improving capacity to endure them.
This summer, I have experienced climate adaption in action across Indonesia working with the Center for Climate Risk and Opportunity Management, a partner of the IRI based at Bogor Agricultural University in West Java. The future climate challenges presented to this island nation are significant. It is located in the inter-tropical convergence zone, and regularly hosts extreme precipitation events such as severe thunderstorms and that lead to flooding. These events often produce dangerous landslides in mountainous regions, particularly during the monsoon season. Longer dry periods, often a classic signal associated with El-Niño events, threaten agricultural productivity and enhance forest fire activity, resulting regularly in extreme haze and aggravating already poor air quality conditions. Temperature increases paired with changes in precipitation patterns are likely to increase and shift the range of prominent vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
In addition to significant climate risks, Indonesia is home to 226 million residents, ranking it number four in population across the globe. Over the last ten to fifteen years, its per capita GDP has doubled, an impressive feat demonstrating the government’s commitment to reducing poverty. Growth in energy consumptions follows this growth in GDP, and the vast majority of energy generation comes from fossil fuels. Further, deforestation contribute to much of the country’s emissions and future emissions.
What does Indonesia need to cope with this long list of climate risks? Many of the answers are already present, but more investment is required. The country needs more climate monitoring, to ensure accurate rainfall assessments, downscaled seasonal forecasts, and better preparation for the spread of diseases. They need more ecosystem restoration projects that protect water-absorbing trees from being replaced by housing developments. They must continue to promote more sustainable forestry practices, strengthening the economies of local communities which feel no other option than to destroy the land. They need greater investment in renewable energy technologies in order to meet the growing population’s needs in a less carbon intensive manner. Finally, the country needs to increase education efforts that ensure people are aware of how personal choices impact the environment.
The list of Indonesia’s needs is long, but efforts are underway. I have witnessed several effective actions on a local level, a reminder of the important change that starts with a community of dedicated individuals.
I participated in the weekly volunteer river clean up that the Bogor community and University students undertake along the Ciliwung riverbanks. The community’s action not only helps to eliminate pollution from their local waterways but also reduces conflicts with its neighboring city Jakarta. Bogor sits upstream from the capital, and garbage in the Ciliwung clogs the waterways, preventing proper drainage downstream. Flooding events, particularly during the monsoon season, are extremely common in the country’s capital and likely to increase in frequency as the climate growers warmer.
I also shared a meeting with fifteen members of a local farmer cooperative in the Pringkuku Village of East Java, one of the poorest regions on the island. They discussed how best to build a new road and irrigation system in the community. With their budget and resources, the strategic plan will take more than a year, but the community is prepared for this lengthy process. Improved irrigation is essential to improving crop yields and weathering low rainfall seasons.
Another impressive feat is the work of an undergraduate student from the University, Daniel Chrisendo, who I have been fortunate to collaborate with in my internship. Daniel recognized that the government’s environmental education program was not reaching the children living in the Babakan village nearby to his home in Bogor because of its marginal location. Along with other students in his organization, the Indonesia Climate Students Forum, he began volunteering his expertise to teach an environmental program to the students in the village’s elementary schools. To further his efforts, he is partnering with Oxfam International and developing a multiple-lesson curriculum that can be used in more schools across Indonesia. While the middle class expands, populations clamor for more convenience items and larger cars; therefore increased education programs can teach of the environmental dangers that accompany habits of overconsumption.
Work from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) highlights the power of engaging such small groups to take action. People who feel an affiliation with a group are more likely to cooperate in environmental decisions; smaller groups can trigger stronger affiliations. We all associate ourselves with many groups: our home country, our home town, our universities, our fraternities, our places of worship. A deficient regulation failing to protect a river in your hometown is likely to elicit stronger personal affiliation than deficient regulations protecting an ocean on your country’s far away coast. Although environmental protection regulations may be somewhat out of our hands, we can attend public meetings and petition municipal leaders to improve and more strictly enforce them. And we are likely to become more impassioned when the regulations affect the river in our hometown.
Which brings us back to the old phrase “think globally, act locally.” Making a change is within our local reach.