Professor Mugambi and the curse of climate change

If other Christian Aid reports are as good as mine the organisation regularly produces high quality pieces of work that both inform and persuade those that read them. It needs to translate them into all known languages (including both traditions of Cornish) and litter the world with them. To deny my insights to non-English speakers seems cruel and pointless.

Anyway, they speak English in Kenya and the recent climate change report has made an impact. I was invited to meet Professor Jesse Mugambi who teaches religious studies and philosophy at the University of Nairobi and is a member of the World Council of Churches Working Group on Climate Change. He thought our report was excellent and is keen to work with Christian Aid.


“When the rains fail, people that depend on rain-fed agriculture go hungry.” It is that simple. The recent drought in Kenya caused hardship for millions who simply had to sit and pray for rain. People I spoke to in lush Kisumu (by Lake Victoria) think that climate change is to blame for increasingly regular droughts. So does Professor Mugambi. Stopping the rain from falling must seem to those who wait for it like some ancient mythical curse that has somehow been conjured into a deadly reality. One wonders what the rich world will think up next. Frogs?


Mugambi has been involved in over a decade of high level UN talks on climate change and has become sceptical of government efforts to deal with the problem. “It will take more than our lifetimes to reverse global warming. That is why we need to focus on adaptation [as well as precaution and mitigation].”


I see this as, to some extent, an admission of defeat, an admission that global warming can now be added to colonialism, debt collection, natural resource theft and unfair trade [please add] as another injustice visited on the world’s poor by greedy people in greedy countries. An admission that, as with debt, as with trade etc, poor people cannot wait for others to do the right thing – it is not their fault, but they have to get on and deal with it.

“Trees”, say Mugambi. “What has happened globally has to be responded to locally.” One side of the Rift Valley escarpment gets rained on, the other does not. Why? Because re-forestation on one side has re-altered the microclimate and rain is again attracted. “On that side, people’s quality of life is much better.” God knows why rain falls on trees and I do not. Professor Mugambi does, but as he says, “Local people don’t need the science explained to them. They know what is happening to their climate.”


His message is clear. Yes we need to challenge the causes of climate change – and that means people on the streets banging drums, not just more discussions among bureaucrats. But equally important is to respond to a climate that has already changed and will continue to do so. There are many ways to adapt. I will be investing in a hammock and starting an olive tree plot on my dad’s allotment. It is perhaps an area that development organisations need to more fully integrate into their programmes and policy work. Not my dad’s allotment. Adaptation.

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