We celebrated Earth Day last week and will continue to care for our planet throughout the year. Check out what Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, DC (RPCV/W) member Sam Gullion has shared about our responsibilities to care for Earth and how you can help out through RPCV/W!
As you may know, this is the only planet that human beings will inhabit during our lifetime (barring some intense technological advancements just short of a miracle). You can understand why it is important for us to care for our planet and have a holiday dedicated to remembering how important the planet is. As Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), it is probably also easy to see how the poor choices of the past directly impact the lives of people around the world today. Enter, climate change—the effects of which many of us saw in our host communities.
Many RPCVs choose to discuss climate change and the importance of caring for the Earth during their service. While I served as an Environmental Action and Food Security Volunteer, I worked with farmers in the Plateaux region of Togo and learned much about the challenges they faced related to climate change. Clear-cutting of forests and monoculture plantations had caused a significant change in the weather patterns across Togo during their lifetime. The farmers talked about the way seasons no longer started and ended at the normal time of year, how the rainy seasons were shorter and dry seasons could destroy livelihoods.
According to the U.S. EPA, “rising global average temperature is associated with widespread changes in weather patterns.” Rising temperatures are even more intense for countries that are closer to the equator. Developing countries whose farmers are still reliant on rainfall are losing essential crops because they plant as they always have, according to the timelines passed down by their grandparents. Now they face alternative realities, as do the communities that depend on these crops.
RPCVs embark on many initiatives to educate their communities, particularly the youngest members. Many of you may have held special environmentally focused English lessons, sessions at spring and summer camps, started an Environment Club, and of course screened the ever-popular and heartwarming "Wall-E." Some lessons included defining and discussing ecosystems, the effects of slash-and-burn agriculture, the ways that polyculture cropping can decrease risk, and the importance of trash pick-up and planting trees.
Changes in weather patterns have also had negative effects on the U.S. and other countries that rank high on the Human Development Index. The southwestern U.S. is particularly vulnerable to climate change, which can result in drought. Even a small decrease in water availability in this already arid region can stress natural systems and threaten water supplies. If California dries up, so does more than a third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the country's fruits and nuts—an unpleasant thought.
Developed countries are also the most culpable for our current predicament. It is our duty to actively counteract the damage we have already done. As RPCVs, we have the social consciousness that predicates taking action, and have already developed the necessary skills to lead and educate our community.
RPCV/W has given volunteers a platform to continue educating and drawing attention to climate change through monthly community service events. This year, one of those events supported a local gem, Rock Creek Park. Many of our events go toward conserving local natural spaces. Whether we are removing litter in parks, fishing out trash from the Anacostia River in kayaks, or clearing away invasive plants in conservancies, our environmentally focused events draw large groups of volunteers. Participants often feel empowered by these activities to take concrete steps toward protecting our environment and addressing issues of climate change on a local level.
RPCV/W hosted a workday for the 11th annual extreme cleanup of Rock Creek Park (pictured above), which was attended by almost twenty volunteers. They removed trash and debris from the trails in the park as a part of the conservancy's efforts to protect the environment.
We invite you to join us for future community service events or to let us know about those you are hosting! We hope that you won’t hesitate to bring family and friends; whether it’s to teach them about topics like climate change or just to get them motivated to act, we want them to join! Small gestures by many people can create big change.
We hope you all had a wonderful and reflective Earth Day!