Simplify climate crisis to convince rural folks

The assumption that all matters rain and sunshine are in God’s hands is undermining climate action efforts, especially in the grassroots. [iStockphoto]

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name may not bring to mind anything other than action movies that many in my generation would rob our mothers’ secret home banks to watch at the then versions of pay TV.

But the man, now in his 70s and a global climate champion, has recently reawakened many with his assertion that climate change needs to be simplified.

Confession: My best understanding of climate change is in English. I have to search the translation to Kiswahili. I lack a term for it in my mother tongue.

So to explain the crisis to people in rural areas, I will have to use “climate change”, several times, even though it sounds a boardroom term.

As a budding journalist, I considered climate change a United Nations issue, one that only needed focus when reports were released. Many writers thought to understand the issue, and who the public relied on for opinion, mostly paraphrased such reports, without localising them. In Kenya, weather “updates” form part of random conversations. One between my parents and I is always an unsolicited update that involves either “God” sending them rain or withholding it for too long “this time”.

The assumption that all matters rain and sunshine are in God’s hands is undermining climate action efforts, especially in the grassroots. Different demographics consume information differently. While the youth will most certainly be on social media through phones, the old and people in rural areas, mostly without smart phones, use vernacular radio.

A recent BBC media guide shows how radio is heavily relied on in rural areas, with more than 180 licenced stations existing by mid-2021. Most radio stations broadcast in local languages and are heavily relied on by people in rural areas, where climate crisis also hits hardest. These big numbers need to be climate literate for a more inclusive and robust climate action.

There is opportunity to push climate action further using the huge numbers in rural areas to attain sustainability. Prolonged drought and other manifestations of climate change have a direct effect on economy, water, food security and health. People in grassroots need to understand how the same is linked to their children’s access to education, gender equity, and how it affects energy access.

The lack of understanding on why the cost of living is rising and what role climate change plays in the economy that is heavily reliant on rain-fed agriculture, is dangerous. They need to understand how this affects livelihoods, and that it is a human caused problem rather than God punishing anybody. They also need to know their rights and where to demand them, or just seek help. Vulnerability to climate change is worsened by, among others, misinformation, disinformation, inadequate capacity and institutions, inequality or even migration. People need to know the disproportionate ways in which climate change affects different demographics, especially women, children and the aged.

There is opportunity to increase critical knowledge and awareness among many in rural and urban areas, including slums. We can start small despite the goal being big. Building the masses’ adaptation capacity will be one huge way to reduce vulnerability. But these may not be achievable if left in the hands of NGOs only. Let’s also focus on implementation of policies around these issues.

Now, can someone please help explain “global warming”, “loss and damage”, “net zero”, “adaptation”, “resilience”, “climate crisis”, “biodiversity loss”, “carbon sequestration”, “carbon credits”, “sustainable development goals”, and “tipping point” to the nearest “climate semi-illiterate” person near you using mother tongue!

@lynno16 | [email protected]