My name is Billy and I am a volunteer with the AYCC in Victoria. I first heard about the AYCC through a friend during a discussion we were having about potential volunteer opportunities. She recommended them highly, and with climate change being something I already had an interest in, I was soon signing my first petitions and then expressed an interest to volunteer.
Mim DiNapoli reflects on the people she met in Nepal, the recent tragedy at Annapurna and connecting the dots of climate impacts globally.
I’m sitting in a Melbourne café and I’ve just learned the news from Facebook. Two climbers, Finnish national Samuli Mansikka and Nepal native Pemba Sherpa, have died during their descent from the Annapurna summit. These are the first deaths of the season. I’ve never met either man, but I’m stung with secondhand grief. I’ve recently returned from a three-week trek through the Hindu Kush region of Nepal to Everest Base Camp. Assisting our team of young people was Temba T. Sherpa, head of the company Dreamers Destination, the same company responsible for the team on Annapurna. Temba delivered the news in a status update that rang of confusion and despair: “today I can't stand & have forgotten how to smile,” he wrote. I imagined him at his desk in Kathmandu, sitting before the phone he would use to call to their families.
It was Temba who taught me how to listen to the mountains. “Some say you shouldn’t climb them at all,” he told me as we walked along the treeline to Tengboche. “For Buddhists, the mountains are sacred.” I ask him if he is a practising Buddhist and he grins. “Sure, I have a lot of respect for Buddhist teachings, but I think science is important, too.” Temba is well-traveled and spent five years studying in China. “People here,” he says, referring to Nepal, “they need more education.” When I ask him whether recent government-backed initiatives have improved rates of higher education for young people, he agrees, but adds that the country is slow to change.
As this change trickles through, climate change continues to reshape the face of the land. The Himalayas have undergone the weather’s plastic surgery: glaciers which once covered entire plateaus along the Hindu Kush are now reduced to glacial lakes. “These lakes have only been around for six years or so,” Amar tells me. He’s another member of our climbing expedition. Like the rest of our assisting team, his manner is a mixture of schoolboy humour and thoughtful solemnity. Just moments before our conversation about glacial lakes, he was video-recording his colleague do backflips over streams that used to be frozen all year round. They speed up the footage on their phones and post it to Facebook, chuckling at their own exploits. Temba shakes his head at them, but he’s smiling too.
This winter has been recorded as particularly harsh; climbing conditions are subject to rapid change and this has increased the danger of stranded expeditions and fatal accidents. I know from my own time in Nepal that the technology used for warning systems leaves much to be desired. While no single storm or avalanche can be attributed to climate change, the pattern of increased extreme weather events has altered the landscape dramatically.
Companies no longer feel confident that they can predict weather patterns to ensure a level of safety for their clients. This is reflected in increased insurance premiums for those undertaking various expeditions. The tragic recent deaths of Samuli Mansikka and Pemba Sherpa leave a lot of questions unanswered.
Cyclone Pam, the category 5 cyclone, which tore through Vanuatu on March 6, left up to 70 percent of the country’s population displaced. The official death toll sits at 24. Thoughts swirl like the white flurry of the grainy photo plastered on news bulletins: it’s not fair, it’s not confined and it’s happened before. These ideas aren’t new or radical, but I find myself here again, listing cyclically what we already know.
Meanwhile in Australia, we’re stuck in a time machine going backwards. Our abysmal 5% emissions reduction target puts us behind some of the world’s least developed nations. The government has just approved the expansion of a new coal port in the Galilee Basin, flying in the face of widespread community opposition to the project. One would think it was 1995. Despite what we see occurring at home and abroad on the nightly news, our government has failed to deliver a renewable energy target that would ensure the continued expansion of the clean energy industry - a move that, to my international friends at the Himalayan Climate Initiative, sounded like a no-brainer. Gathering in their Kathmandu headquarters after completing our trek to the Everest Base Camp, our team was struck by sophisticated level of organisation and knowledge sharing between (mostly young) climate activists in their corner of the world. Limited resources are no barrier to their ambition. Already they’ve managed to implement citywide initiatives to improve waste management in Kathmandu, with an outlook to expand the project to the rest of the country. The Prime Minister of Nepal calls himself a friend of HCI. What remains a challenge is connecting the activist community with policymakers who can influence the outcomes of make-or-break solutions for the region.
Like our friends in Nepal, we are also rising to this challenge. In just 9 years, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition has grown to 120,000 members and over 1500 active volunteers. We are now the largest youth-run organisation in the country. The team of AYCC volunteers with whom I travelled to Everest Base Camp have shaped and informed my understanding of our collective capacity to act on climate change. For me personally, the future of AYCC is exciting. We have the power to inform public discourse that shapes the nation’s level of ambition to solve the climate crisis.
In some ways, the office of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition seems so far removed from the beautiful and merciless mountains I walked amongst in Nepal. Returning to our headquarters for the first time this week, I felt silence underscoring the room’s intent. My friends were hard at work. Outside, rain had started on the footpaths. When I learned of the climbers’ recent deaths on Annapurna, I remembered a poem I’d seen inscribed on a gravestone to climber Peter Ganner, who died summiting Everest in 2001. I’d copied a few lines into my journal:
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.