It’s been a tough week in the USA. A series of “unrelenting” heatwaves rolled across the country, leading to widespread power outages, destroying crops, causing roads to buckle and drawing attention once again to the polarising topic of climate change. Health officials believe the oppressive heat has contributed to at least 36 deaths, and while everyone agrees that the situation is a cause for concern, the debate about whether or not this weather event is part of a broader, pernicious trend or simply a ‘natural’ phenomenon, is still raging.

Worlds away, in the mountainous land of Nepal, the problem seems to be much simpler. And perhaps even starker. This weekend, at the TEAR Australia national conference, I heard Ben, a former aid and development field worker in Nepal, give a short talk about climate change. In 2008, Ben went to live in the Himalayan nation with his wife and two children, making it their home for more than three years. During that time they worked with several local organisations that were assisting poor, rural communities to build dignified lives against the harsh backdrop of unrelenting poverty.

The experience had obviously left a strong impression on Ben.

“It’s a ridiculous country,” he said. “It’s a place with these incredible mountains that people live on and walk on and farm on. There are all these terraces that are just wide enough to farm on and then there are houses just hanging off the side of hills in ways that you’d think were impossible. It’s a most exorbitant place”

Over the two days I attended, the conference program was packed full of sessions, seminars and plenary presentations covering a huge range of topics, from non-violence and fair trade to hospitality at home and unhelpful charity. But out of all this dialogue and discussion, one anecdote from Ben stood out.

In a farming village he had visited, there was a certain native cherry tree that had been used for generations to predict the weather. When the tree flowered, the people knew that the annual rains were on their way and they could begin to plant their seeds. Without fail, a week or so after the first flowers bloomed, the clouds would come rolling in and the earth would be watered. Sometimes it took just a couple of days and other times it might take a fortnight. But it was always within that range.

Over the past five or so years, however, the situation has begun to change markedly and rapidly. The cherry trees have continued to bloom as always, but when they have, the rains haven’t followed. The farmers have waited for up to 60 days, with their hope slowly dwindling away.

“For subsistence farmers living on the edge of starvation, this is a real problem,” Ben said. “They don’t know what to do.”

As a country, Nepal is highly susceptible to horrific disasters like erosion, landslides and flooding. And in this context, scepticism around climate change is virtually non-existent in the local media.

According to Ben, it’s not because there is no freedom of the press and nor is it because democracy is being stifled: “It’s because they don’t want to talk crap”.

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