This weekend, I had the privilege to visit the work of various community members and the NGOs, FILOMENA and CEDEPAS, in the Andean cities of La Oroya and Huancayo, Junin. The trip was part of my work in support of the Joining Hands Network Peru (JH-Peru), which is hosting a delegation of Presbyterians from the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, which supports JH-Peru, and various other interested members of the PC (USA). The trip provided the delegation a view into some of the work done by members of JH-Peru in addressing climate change as a root cause of poverty and hunger.
There was a considerable amount packed into these two days and naturally we didn’t get to do it all because of delays. Naturally, I felt a lot of sympathy for Jed and Conrado who took point on planning that so much beyond their control fell apart. Thankfully, though, our group maintained a positive attitude and were flexible, understanding, and most importantly, grateful for the opportunity.
Despite late starts and delays leading us to cancel various meetings, we still heard from notable members of the area communities. We learned about the sources of poverty in the area, the damaging consequences of unaccountable mining companies, and how the root causes of that poverty grows out of the a complex history of social, economic, political, and environmental factors. That is BOH’s MO, so it was no surprise, yet I was still amazed at the comprehensive connection between the push & pull migratory factors during the political violence of the 80s and 90s and the sale of land during the 20th century exacerbated inequity and fostered a system that allowed for unaccountable mining processes.
Instead of recreating each presentation, I will give a quick picture of the gravity of the situation up here and one particular presentation that stuck out. If you’d like to learn the story behind each of these issues, find out more about La Oroya, investor-state disputes, and the effects of climate change on mining in Peru. Largely, they are all stories of negative externalities, or costs to society beyond those felt the private entity that takes an action.
In La Oroya, a mining company, Doe Run Peru, engaged in contaminating processes via its mining. It’s a complex situation, but in summary, the group exploited poor enforcement of regulations and openly challenged the right of Peru to enforce those regulations. Joining Hands Peru conducted a study with students from the University of St. Louis to show that 99.7 percent of the children had more than 10 milligrams per deciliter of lead in their blood, which is well above the World Health Organization recommendation for the highest levels. The rocks are burned and scarred with acid rain. The river runs rusted brown with various contaminants from the mining process below a sign asserting that Doe Run Peru does not contaminate. While Doe Run does not carry the only blame, they were a major contributor and have worked to stay unaccountable to that.
Then we encountered the sad beauty that is viewing a glacier from an area that within recent memory was covered by that same glacier. We drove up the mountain Huayllata Pullana, which is capped with what is left of a glacier, which is forecasted to have totally melted within 15 years.
It was an unquestionably beautiful landscape. During the hour, each of our group started to shiver, feeling the cold of the high altitude seep in, mocking us that no matter how cold it got, it would never be cold enough to fix the irreversible process of glacial melting.
It was on top of that mountain though, that I found some hope. I’m hesitant here with this story. I generally abhor cliché stories about finding hope in the most hopeless of situations and I’m sure you do as well. Still, I am hopeful that you will entertain that statement for a few lines, as I explain.
The leader of the statewide Office for the Management of Natural Resources, Walter Lopez, spoke to us at the top of the mountain with the diminished glacier at his back about the existing plans to combat climate change. He stated that his plan is in accordance with national public policies, as well as that of the state of Junin. Instead of taking an overly pessimistic to the irreversibility of climate change or unrealistically optimistic approach, the plan was highly comprehensive.
The plan sought to bandage what could be bandaged, cut off major sources of climate change, and advance systemic changes to prevent climate change in the future. Additionally, the plan recognized the importance of addressing the political, economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change, as well as, the possible solutions.
Walter spoke about how climate change worsens the effects of natural disasters. He also explained that Junin’s plan includes reforesting different areas, communicate to businesses about the harmful effects of greenhouse gases, and many other initiatives.
Within this plan are studies of the areas and peoples (read: poorest) most affected by climate change, so as to focus on them. Likewise, he stated that they are looking into ways to ensure economic losses are at a minimum for businesses and individuals when the changes are implemented. While we are all implicated in the effects of climate change, the costs of most plans are not shared equally among the population or with a greater burden on those who most contribute to climate change. Generally, the richest are most able to whether changes to combat climate change, because technologies like solar panels are expensive. Informed action can reduce this effect and lead to a more comprehensive and just solution to climate change for all.
Walter admitted that the biggest limitation was funding. He said he has pushed the government to make climate change a budget priority and added that the COP 20 has helped advanced his cause on a regional, national and international level. Still, without funding these policies would just be words.
Instead of losing hope though, I looked to our experiences that morning in the community of Chaquicocha (literally dry lagoon), which contains several pilot projects by CEDEPAS. We visited the house of Don Gregorio who has a solar shower to make up for the lack of heated water without adding to greenhouse gases. We also saw a biodigestor, which transforms the methane produced by cow dung and transforms into usable gas over the course of several weeks. While this eventually results in the creation of gases, it reduced the consumption of natural gas by extended the use of a typical waste material.
It was an amazing contraption, with a cost of about $700, but an amazing one that made this small home, most likely carbon neutral and possibly carbon negative. It’s not cheap, but creative approaches like that give me hope.
Leaders like Walter, who stand up to fight climate change, also give me hope.
And yes, a lack of funding is a clear indicator that it’s not all worked out. Yet if it was, then I wouldn’t really need hope, would I?