It dawned on me four years ago when I was invited to Lima, Peru as part of the first Dìa Sin Auto event in Peru. In addition to shutting down Congress with 300 5th graders on bikes (they were too cute to ignore or to sic the riot police on!), appearing on national TV and radio and riding all over Lima with the energetic and visionary Paolo Dentone, I spoke at the Universidad Catòlica on climate change and the Portland, Oregon region’s response. After bragging on our success in reducing per capita carbon emissions and all the cool bike and transit stuff we are doing, I was humbled by the next speaker, a local elected official, who pointed out my Northern arrogance and ignorance of the dire threat faced by countries like Peru.
While we in the North worry about polar bear survival and whether we will have to switch to growing Zinfandel rather than Pinot Noir grapes in the Willamette Valley, residents of Lima need only look to the peaks of the Andes where the water source for 8 million people is rapidly melting away. With only 1 to 3 inches of rain a year, those mountaintop ice fields are literally lifelines. And they are rapidly disappearing with rising global temperatures.
Per capita as well as total carbon emissions are so much lower in the South that it is foolish as well as insulting to push for mitigation from these countries–countries that are suffering great damage and disruption from climate change caused by our behaviors. Led by Mexico City Mayor Marcel Ebrard, cities throughout South America are taking actions to counter the effects of climate change, especially unprecedented flooding caused by extreme rainfall. Moving vulnerable populations out of low-lying areas, protecting wetlands, reforesting hillsides are all being pursued. But until the North cuts back drastically on burning fossil fuels, adaptive strategies are like bailing a leaking boat.