The Front Line of Climate Change

 

By Gerry Boyle '78
Photography by Ling Zhu '09
 

Oak Human Rights Fellow Afsan Chowdhury
Oak Human Rights Fellow Afsan Chowdhury

When Oak Fellow Afsan Chowdhury first arrived on the Colby campus, he was struck by the manicured lawns, immaculate brick buildings, the gentle summer breezes.

“And the lack of difficulties in all aspects,” he said.

For Chowdhury, a journalist and activist from Bangladesh, it was a moment of culture shock. “Because there is nothing wrong in this place,” he said. “And I come from a world where almost everything is wrong.”

For Chowdhury, who is on campus for a semester to alert the Colby community, and the West, to the very dangerous, very present effects of climate change, the contrast was illuminating. “There are people who find it very difficult to relate to the world where the difficulties are so enormous,” he said. “For the West, climate change is a matter of lifestyle: reduce consumption, recycle. But for the East, it is about life, literally, physical life. Climate change is not waiting to happen,” he said. “In the south, in the countries like Bangladesh, climate change has already happened.”

Chowdhury first reported on the then-looming crisis 20 years ago in his home country. In the years since he has seen Bangladesh ravaged by rising waters, flooding of the Ganges Delta, disrupted growing seasons, resulting food shortages, displacement of more than 30 million people.

In low-lying countries like his, where poverty has long been endemic and people have lived under the threat of cyclones and monsoons, the changing climate has made a difficult situation worse.

Everything is in a state of flux in those economically and environmentally challenged worlds,” Chowdhury said, “where the rivers are taking away homes, where drought has taken away crops, and floods have destroyed harvests, and all of this has depressed people economically, medically, socially, and in every other way.

“How does one bring these two worlds closer? Because it’s not like the West doesn’t know. But the West needs to relate. That is different from just knowing. I think that is the biggest challenge today.”

 
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