Archive for the Environment Category

… at the end of a busy week.

Nepal has just moved on from its 7 month old caretaker government, installing its 4th ever Communist Prime Minister. Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) – CPN (UML) – chair, Jhalanath Khanal takes the top job, backed also by the CPN (Maoist). The main task of the government now is to lead the process of writing Nepal’s new Constitution and resolving outstanding issues of the peace process.

There are just 4 months of the interim period left so let’s hope that this government manages to be both stable and active during that time. Since the 2008 elections it has appeared that you could have activity without stability or stability without activity, but not both at once. There are also, however, “trust issues” between the major parties that could make this hard. The second largest party in the Constituent Assembly, Nepali Congress, has decided to move into opposition, rather than join a government of national unity, and many of the smaller parties seem just plain tired of being messed around by the big three.


This week I also forgot to offer my hearty congratulations to the world’s soon-to-be newest nation, Southern Sudan. We happened to be back in Australia during the voting and shared the excitement of our Sudanese friends in the lead up to and during the referendum on independence. Jack de Groot’s thoughtful and prayerful reflections on the challenges ahead are worth reading.


And, finally, the lungs of the world may be developing a serious case of emphysema. Two severe droughts in the Amazon – the first in 2005 and an even more severe one in 2010 – have led to the deaths of billions of trees and may, on initial estimates, lead to the emission of more than 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide in coming years as the dead trees rot.

One of the study’s authors said,

Two unusual and extreme droughts occurring within a decade may largely offset the carbon absorbed by intact Amazon forests during that time. If events like this happen more often, the Amazon rainforest would reach a point where it shifts from being a valuable carbon sink slowing climate change, to a major source of greenhouse gases that could speed it up.

Considerable uncertainty remains surrounding the impacts of climate change on the Amazon. This new research adds to a body of evidence suggesting that severe droughts will become more frequent leading to important consequences for Amazonian forests. If greenhouse gas emissions contribute to Amazon droughts that in turn cause forests to release carbon, this feedback loop would be extremely concerning. Put more starkly, current emissions pathways risk playing Russian roulette with the world’s largest rainforest.

So, it may be appropriate to view the Amazon today as a crime scene. And the ghosts that are being unleashed could haunt us for a long time to come.

Byron Smith is writing a 3 part blog series on Ecology and the Gospel. Reviewing the catalogue of contemporary environmental horrors – Climate change. Biodiversity loss and habitat destruction. Resource depletion. Desertification. Overfishing. Ocean acidification… – he asks:

Is concern about such matters a distraction from the gospel or even a dangerous false agenda proposed by pantheist environmentalists?

The whole thing is worth reading, but I particularly liked Byron’s way of articulating part of every generation’s “greatest moral question” as,

whether we will love our neighbour as ourselves, or love ourselves to the harm of our neighbour.

I think that pretty much sums up for me the profound connection between our ecological and inter-personal ethics. Greenhouse gas emissions from our carbon-intensive economies and lifestyles are crowding the shared sky of our global village and warming the Earth, doing measurable harm to our poorest global neighbours.

A few years ago I fronted a DVD – Climate of Change – produced by TEAR Australia, looking at the impacts of climate change on Bangladesh, and also at the extraordinary community development work of HEED Bangladesh that is helping build community capacity and resilience in the face of climate change. And right now in my work with United Mission to Nepal, we are seeing the impacts of climate change in Nepal and working with poor communities to help them adapt.

Indifference, ignorance, and indulgence should not be options for Christians, but – sadly – they seem to be the default options for most of us most of the time. Our lifestyles, our worship, and our political discourse bear very little evidence that we take creation, new creation, and an other-centred ecological ethic seriously.

Or do you have, and are you part of, a story of change and hope?

You know you totally want to. And you can do it here.

The tasty Danish iced-confection that leaves civil society demonstrators cold… (and beaten, and arrested), negotiators in a zombie state,  and the rest of us feeling a little uneasy that there is no Plan(et) B

Here’s an opinion piece that my colleague Raju and I worked on that captures some of the last week’s procedural kerfuffle in Copenhagen from a Nepalese perspective. Published in today’s Kathmandu Post.

DEC 17 – At just 26 square kilometres, and with a population of only 12,000 people, Tuvalu is one of planet Earth’s smallest nations. Its political, economic and military clout is on par with its physical size — roughly zero. Yet the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu last week brought the entire Copenhagen climate change summit to a halt. Not with stunts or threats but with a powerful moral stand to defend the rights of its citizens and, indeed, its very survival as a nation against the ravages of climate change — rising sea levels and more numerous and ferocious tropical storms.

The confrontation came when Tuvalu insisted that its proposed ‘Copenhagen Protocol’ should be discussed formally by the meeting. Tuvalu’s proposed Protocol (to be added on top of the Kyoto Protocol) would commit all countries to take action to restrict global temperature rise to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and bring the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere down to 350 parts per million (ppm), from its current level of almost 380 ppm.

Developed countries baulked at the proposal because it would require emissions reductions far more ambitious than anything they have contemplated. In fact, the action of developed countries and their commitments to date do not give the world any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change and a global temperature rise far in excess of 2°C.

However, many developing nations — including China, South Africa, India and Saudi Arabia — also spoke against allowing the proposal to be discussed formally. Tuvalu’s proposal would require not only developed countries to take legally binding actions, but would make the same demand of the largest developing countries. In this way Tuvalu, supported by small island states and the Least Developed Countries of Africa, not only brought the meeting to a standstill, but also created a “rift” in the much hyped unity of developing countries.

Now, exposing the very substantial differences of interest that exist within the developing countries bloc (which though known for historical reasons as “G77 + China” actually consists of over 130 nations) is not necessarily a bad thing. Despite the negotiating power that comes with developing-country unity, there are some very real, and possibly irreconcilable, conflicts that need to be addressed. Small island states see their very existence threatened by climate change. Least Developed Countries including Nepal see rapid scaling-up of financing for adaptation as the highest priority. Rapidly developing nations such as South Africa, China and India recognise the environmental and human threat posed by climate change, but don’t want their economic development and poverty reduction efforts prematurely stifled — and particularly not while developed countries are still not making anything like the effort required to reduce their own emissions. Some oil-dependent economies, notably Saudi Arabia, seem to want to sabotage any deal that would lead the world away from dependence on oil and the fossil fuels that got us into this mess in the first place.

There is a pattern of confrontation and resistance emerging in Copenhagen in which developing countries, and especially the most vulnerable, are no longer prepared to sit passively and wait for their fates to be decided by whatever actions might or might not be taken by developed nations, and the largest developing country emitters. Tuvalu, along with the Alliance of Small Island States of which it is part, has long been a leader in this regard. This week, Africa stepped to the forefront demanding a suspension of negotiations unless developed countries renewed their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. The African Group then led a walkout which was supported by all developing nations.

The Kyoto Protocol is currently the only legally binding mechanism for ensuring emissions reductions from developed countries. Though it only covers around a third of global emissions — since developing countries are not bound by it and the U.S. point blank refuses to ratify — it is a vital tool for delivering emissions reductions and equity, since it requires earliest and deepest action from developed countries whose historic emissions have done most to cause the problem of climate change. Some developed countries are reluctant, or even hostile, to renewing their commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, so the African walkout is a clear indication that they will not be allowed to wriggle out of their responsibilities easily.

The actions of Tuvalu and the African Group action should be a wake up call for all countries, and especially for those — like Nepal — that are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Nepal’s negotiators have until now largely focused on securing increased financing for adaptation, and placed very little emphasis on pushing for more ambitious commitments from all parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent run away climate change. Certainly adaptation is undeniably a critical issue, and developed countries (who are the biggest climate change culprits) are still grudgingly offering only a small fraction of the guaranteed finance that will be needed to meet increasing adaptation costs.  Still, there are some welcome signs of new adaptation commitments from the European Union, support for “fast start” adaptation funding from many countries, and a concrete joint proposal for a new climate funding mechanism that has come from the U.K., Australia, Norway and Mexico of all places.

But we will find cold comfort (an ironic phrase indeed) if in putting all our negotiating muscle behind getting access to the adaptation dollar we find we missed the chance to stand with Tuvalu and push harder for deep cuts to global emissions. The climate change impacts that come with warming beyond 2°C are likely to be the kind that only the very wealthy and the very lucky are able to adapt to.

Yes, it would mean taking a different line to our most powerful neighbours — neither India or China want to take on binding emissions reductions targets at this stage in their development. It would require a tricky diplomatic balancing act of calling for more from them, while at the same time not letting developed countries — who are the biggest climate change culprits — off the hook for one second. Nepal is a small nation, and such a strategy is a big task.

But Tuvalu’s example just goes to show that when it comes to climate change — and to international climate change negotiations — size really doesn’t matter.

Tearfund have released a new report on reducing global emissions, The first cut is the deepest? (pdf).

It’s a clear and (relatively) concise report on what’s at stake and what is needed in the Copenhagen deal to deliver the emissions reductions needed to preserve a safe climate for all. In line with the latest science and with calls from those countries most vulnerable to climate change, especially Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries (though some of these countries’ positions go even even further than thosde adopted in this report), it notes that:

Deveoped countries will need to cut emissions by at least 40% on 1990 levels by 2020, and global emissions must come down at least 85% by 2050 in order to give the world a halfway decent chance of limiting global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Targets to reduce emissions from international aviation and shipping need to be set – and frankly it’s amazing to me that these emissions still remain outside the negotiating framework.

Developing countries will need sufficient, predictable, additional and binding sources of finance, technology and capacity-building support in order to develop low-emissions economies and meet the adaptation needs of poor and vulnerable communities and groups.

What most interested me from this paper was the call for a major reform to the current carbon trading regimes, or the scrapping of the carbon market altogether if it can’t/won’t be reformed. This is a big call for an aid and development organisation to make because curently a levy on transactions through the Kyoto Protocol’s carbon trading mechanism is the only promised source of money for the Adaptation Fund, set up to help meet the adaptation needs of poor countries. As the report notes, though, and as others have noted before now:

the main offset mechanism established by the Kyoto Protocol, the CDM [Clean Development Mechanism], currently fails to gurantee that emissions reductions offset in the developing world are truly additional. David Victor, head of Stanford’s Energy and Sustainable Development Program, believes that ‘between a third and two thirds’ of CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts.

The report delivers  other criticisms of the current market-based mechanisms that are meant to deliver emissions reductions and sustainable development at lowest cost – basically the mechanisms are rife for gaming in a range of ways, don’t support sustainable development and may in fact be delaying the shift of consumption and energy use that will be needed in the North by paying other people to make the cuts in emissions.

There are 16 negotiating days left (11 here in Bangkok and 5 in Barcelona) to lay the foundations for the major UN climate change summit in Copenhagen. As some campaigners have succinctly put it, tck tck tck

Update @ 3:22pm 30/9/09

ChristianAid have a 4 page report The Role of Carbon Markets in Countering Climate Change – worth a read.

Quite possibly this is a(nother) post that won’t live up to the grandiosity of the title. Plus it’s a catch-up post, trying to make up for the fact that I’ve neglected the blog for more than a month now. Ah well. Attending the climate change intercessionals in Bangkok reminded me that I really should have posted this already.

In July I attended the Micah Network Consultation on climate change and stewardship of creation in Kenya. And yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of emitting CO2 to be at meetings discussing climate change. Until maritime and aviation fuels (bunker fuels as they’re known in the business) are taxed properly and their emissions incorporated into a global emissions reductions deal then their environmental externalities won’t properly be factored in. Until that happens, I’ll keep on offsetting as much as I can…

Anyway, it was a joy to be with so many great people, talking, sharing and learning, but a painful joy. There were so many hard stories, particularly relating to the enviromental hazards that a life in poverty exposes people to – from trying to farm marginal and unproductive land, to facing and contributing to increased deforestation and the changes to local climate, livelihoods and flood risk that can bring, to being without resources and supports to prepare for and recover from extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and severe storms. Climate change will make many of these hazards worse.

But I was also on a drafting team putting together the conference’s theological statement. It was a beautiful, tiring and democratic process that involved the drafting team taking the collaborative work of all the participants who met during the day in 15 separate groups, and drafting a new statement for consideration the next day. We generally were able to start our work around 9 or 10pm and finished up around 2am most mornings. However, the result of the work was a text that I really felt didn’t belong to the drafting team, but represented the collective thought, work, wisdom and prayer of the whole group.

It was a privilege to have been part of it. The statement is available for download here, and reads:

We, members of the Micah Network , gathering together from 38 countries on all 5 continents, met at Limuru, Kenya from 13–18 July 2009 for its 4th Triennial Global Consultation. On the matter of Creation Stewardship and Climate Change, we sought God’s wisdom and cried out for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we reflected on the global environmental crisis. As a result of our discussions, reflections and prayers, we make the following declaration:

1. We believe in God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit in community – who is the creator, sustainer and Lord of all. God delights in His creation, and is committed to it.

2. In the beginning, God established just relationships amongst all of creation. Women and men – as image-bearers of God – are called to serve and love the rest of creation, accountable to God as stewards. Our care for creation is an act of worship and obedience towards the Creator.

3. We, however, have not always been faithful stewards. Through our ignorance, neglect, arrogance and greed, we have harmed the earth and broken creation’s relationships. Our failure to be faithful stewards has caused the current environmental crisis, leading to climate change, and putting the earth’s ecosystems at risk. All creation has been subjected to futility and decay.

4. Yet God remains faithful. In Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection, God is at work to reconcile all of creation to Himself. We hear the groaning of creation as in the pains of childbirth. This is the promise that God will act, and is already at work, to renew all things. This is the hope that sustains us.

5. We confess that we have sinned. We have not cared for the earth with the self-sacrificing and nurturing love of God. Instead, we have exploited, consumed and abused it for our own advantage. We have too often yielded to the idolatry that is greed. We have embraced false dichotomies of theology and practice, splitting apart the spiritual and material, eternal and temporal, heavenly and earthly. In all these things, we have not acted justly towards each other or towards creation, and we have not honoured God.

6. We acknowledge that industrialization, increased deforestation, intensified agriculture and grazing, along with the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels, have forced the earth’s natural systems out of balance. Rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions are causing the average global temperature to rise, with devastating impacts already being experienced, especially by the poorest and most marginalized groups. A projected temperature rise of 2°C within the next few decades will significantly alter life on earth and accelerate loss of biodiversity. It will increase the risk and severity of extreme weather events, such as drought, flood, and hurricanes, leading to displacement and hunger. Sea levels will continue to rise, contaminating fresh water supplies and submerging island and coastal communities. We are likely to see mass migration, leading to resource conflicts. Profound changes to rainfall and snowfall, as well as the rapid melting of glaciers, will lead to more water stress and shortages for many millions of people.

7. We repent of our self-serving theology of creation, and our complicity in unjust local and global economic relationships. We repent of those aspects of our individual and corporate life styles that harm creation, and of our lack of political action. We must radically change our lives in response to God’s indignation and sorrow for His creation’s agony.

8. Before God we commit ourselves, and call on the whole family of faith, to bear witness to God’s redemptive purpose for all creation. We will seek appropriate ways to restore and build just relationships among human beings and with the rest of creation. We will strive to live sustainably, rejecting consumerism and the resulting exploitation. We will teach and model care of creation and integral mission. We will intercede before God for those most affected by environmental degradation and climate change, and will act with justice and mercy among, with and on behalf of them.

9. We join with others to call on local, national, and global leaders to meet their responsibility to address climate change and environmental degradation through the agreed inter-governmental mechanisms and conventions, and to provide the necessary resources to ensure sustainable development. Their meetings through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process must produce a fair, comprehensive, and adequate climate deal. Leaders must support the efforts of local communities to adapt to climate change, and must act to protect the lives and livelihoods of those most vulnerable to the impact of environmental degradation and climate change. We recognize that among the most affected are women and girls. We call on leaders to invest in the development of new, clean technologies and energy sources and to provide adequate support to enable poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups to use them effectively.

10. There is no more time for delay or denial. We will labour with passion, persistence, prayer and creativity to protect the integrity of all creation, and hand on a safe environment and climate to our children and theirs.

For those with ears to hear, let them hear.

17 July 2009

I wouldn’t ordinarily venture to dispute Sydney Cardinal, George Pell (that’s the Catholic dignatory, not a pitcher for a minor-league baseball team), but it can’t be a good sign of the quality of the Cardinal’s thinking that he’s quoted approvingly by Andrew Bolt.

Shorter Pell: people I like to read say that climate change isn’t happening. I’m sure they’re right.

There are a number of fundamental errors in the piece which have been addressed over and over again by others who are actually qualified in a way that I, along with the good Cardinal, am not. (The medieval warm period wasn’t warmer. Warming didn’t stop in 1998.) But I was saddened by this childish attempt to use basic confusion about definitions as what is, apparently, meant to be a devastating attack on the scientists who understand climate change.

Originally we were warned about the “greenhouse effect”; then it was “global warming”, followed in turn by “climate change”. Now we talk about reducing the “carbon footprint”.

Um. No. These are not four separate “scares” dreamed up by global warming fanatics, each one supplanting the preceding when it had failed to generate sufficient panic. These are definitions of inter-related aspects of a physical reality.

The greenhouse effect is a term that metaphorically denotes how greenhouse gases in our atmosphere keep the Earth at a fairly constant, and life-friendly, temperature.

Global warming is what happens when additional (human-caused) greenhouse gases in the atmosphere shift the Earth’s energy balance, leading to increased surface temperatures.

And when the average global temperature increases, we don’t only get warmer weather. There are multiple impacts on the climate system, including sea level rise, and changes to precipitation patterns. Climate change seems like a good term to describe that.

And as for reducing our carbon footprint.  Since carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas and we’re releasing gigatonnes of the stuff right now, that sounds like good advice.

And does the Pope know what his Cardinal is up to? Caring for people and the planet, according to Benedict XVI, requires us to be concerned about climate change:

Care of water resources and attention to climate change are matters of grave importance for the entire human family. Encouraged by the growing recognition of the need to preserve the environment, I invite all of you to join me in praying and working for greater respect for the wonders of God’s creation!

No, not a giant snow-dome that will keep us all cool, but a new report (commissioned by the UK’s Department for International Development) which examines the institutions and processes of international climate change negotiations and governance, and asks the question: “Are they able to deliver a comprehensive global agreement and a safe climate?

Short answer: No. No they aren’t.

Longer answer:  If you play around with some scenarios for climate negotiations and governance to 2030 you can imagine what shape they might take, and how that might impact the real world of greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures. (This section is fun, but it’s stomach-plunging rollercoaster kind of fun!)

When you look at the state of play of current multilateral climate negotiations and arrangements, you’re forced to acknowledge that they’re not very coherent, they don’t support climate stabilisation, nor do they really meet any meaningful fairness test.

So climate change negotiators really need to start thinking about designing a new multilateral arrangement that will actually constrain emissions, ensure genuine equity and burden-sharing, and enforce levels of participation and compliance.

And those negotiators need to effectively engage the wider public in this effort. Because, as the report notes, without strong public engagement and support for an effective multilateralism of this kind, institutional inertia, political caution and vested interests may condemn us to failure.

Thanks to a huge and sustained investment in climate science, we have a growing grasp of the climate problem. That knowledge will be in vain, however, without a similar dedication to developing, debating and agreeing climate solutions. We probably have less than a decade to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees – and less time than that to design the institutions of the post-carbon age.

I’ve just finished reading From Poverty to Power*, Duncan Green’s recent book, whose tagline gives you the book’s big idea:

How active citizens and effective states can change the world

Expounding the theme he regularly returns to, he says, “states that can guarantee security and the rule of law, and can design and implement an effective strategy to ensure inclusive economic growth” are essential for driving and managing the development process and “people working together to determine the course of their own lives, fighting for rights and justice in their own societies, are critical in holding states, private companies and others to account.”

It’s a chunky book, aiming at a pretty comprehensive look at different dimensions of power and their interactions at different levels to either advance or inhibit the capacities and opportunities of the poor. It is full of argument and insight (as well as stories of outrage and hope), and is well worth a read.

What’s great about the book is that it takes power (and powerlessness) seriously in all its dimensions (personal, inter-personal, social, political, financial) as it relates to human development and the protection and promotion of human rights. It argues that the redistribution of economic, social and political power, or the creation of new centres and forms of power among the poor, are vital for overcoming inequality, tackling poverty, defending human rights, and calling for –and supporting – responsive, accountable and effective governance.

Looking at national and international policy issues, and following the work of economists like Ha-Joon Chang and Dani Rodrik (and incorporating environmental and gender concerns), the book argues that “economic growth is everything” approaches are not sufficient to tackle poverty and inequality, and that countries (particularly poorer, developing ones) need to retain “policy space” and flexibility when dealing with the trans-national corporations of developed countries, or the architecture of global trade and finance (such as the World Trade Organisation, International Monetary Fund and World Bank). The work isn’t geared to bashing these institutions, and it certainly isn’t anti-market or anti-business. On many occasions it acknowledges the vital role that small and medium, and even large, enterprises can play in creating wealth, generating employment and opportunity, contributing to gender empowerment, and driving economic growth and development. But it takes the rights and flourishing of the poorest as the benchmark for assessing policy, or the behaviour of an institution, or set of governance arrangements – a stance that leads to sharp critique of corporations, international financial institutions, and governments at times.

Along the way, there is plenty of material to fuel your ire, or fire some arguments – for example the discussion of the behaviour of pharmaceutical companies in relation to Africa’s AIDS crisis, the slow-burning tragedy of the crippling debt burden still borne by the world’s poorest people, or the “rigged rules and double standards” of WTO agreements. There are plenty of “killer facts” as well sprinkled throughout to bring out the sharp edge of the topic under discussion.

I really only have one complaint , which is that the book’s strength seems also to be its weakness. Examining so many different forms of power and tools of empowerment (education, citizenship, land and property rights, social protection, cash transfers,…), so many forms of risk and vulnerability faced by the poor (finance, health, food security, conflict and violence, climate change…) and examining stories at so many different levels (the personal, local, national and international) means that, inevitably, many of the sections are really only introductions to the topic at hand, with not quite enough detail to do justice to the issue (though the treatment of issues like the international trade and finance systems, or community organising for political change are very good introductions). Nor do they properly back up the few prescriptive passages in the book. For example, it’s not clear to me what would actually be done differently if we heeded Green’s call for a “new economics for the 21st Century”. He’s probably right about the ascendency of a certain, very blunt, form of neo-classical economics in political decision making. But when he says,

Decision-makers will always need to consult, identify trade-offs, and agree priorities: such discussions are the stuff of politics, which in the end should be served, and not ruled, by economics

I really can’t imagine that decision-makers currently do otherwise.

Related to this is that the kaleidoscopic view of power explored here ends up reading, at certain points, like a change of topic every 20 pages or so, which gets a bit tiring when read at one sitting (or, in a 6-hour stretch in an overcrowded minivan winding its way through the hills of Far Western Nepal!). It would probably have been better to dip in and out of several of the sections according to interest and my ability to concentrate.

Oh, and a minor gripe is that Oxfam’s marketing team seem to have been allowed pretty free play in the text. I have no issue at all with sentences like, “Oxfam has learned that…” or “In the experience of Oxfam’s partners…” The book, after all, was written by Oxfam GB’s head of research and these lessons confirmed by personal and organisational experience provide much of the book’s strength and authenticity.

What started to irk me a little though was that whenever the words “International Non-Governmental Organisations…” cropped up, they were almost invariably followed by the words “… like Oxfam.” Now I know Oxfam is an example of one kind of INGO, and it’s probably worth pointing out once or twice on the way through, but surely not every time. First, it gets tedious and, second, you’d have a slightly warped view of INGOs if every time you thought about them you had to think of Oxfam (whose work, and staff, I really do like and admire).

Funnily enough, though, the words “like Oxfam” didn’t make it into the sentence that reads:

While activists from many developing countries appreciate the support that their organisations receive from INGOs, they often complain that INGOs are domineering…

But that’s definitely enough snark. You can see video of Duncan Green discussing the book here.

* From Poverty to Power is also the name of his excellent blog

I flew to Dhangadhi, in the Western Terai (southern plains) region of Nepal on the way up to Doti District, which is in the middle hills of Nepal’s Far West. Leaving Kathmandu, I had hoped to enjoy a few days of clear air – as well as contribute to the advocacy training and discussion with UMN staff and local partners. Better air quality was a forlorn hope, though the training and discussion went well.


The whole of Nepal is was shrouded with what is prosaically known as the Atmospheric Brown Cloud. (Update: recent rain that has crossed most of the country from East to West and strong, sometimes destructive, winds have put out many of the forest fires that were burning and cleared a lot of the haze. The difference in the air when flying out to that when I returned 9 days later was remarkable.)

The clouds and the mountains hang unnervingly, suspended above the haze. At the point where the haze’s upper plane meets the clouds, their pristine white is transformed into a dull rust-brown. Below the surface of the haze, there is nothing of them to be seen – they are truncated by the murk.


And, looking straight down, the ground is faintly visible, but through three kilometres of sky that is the dirty grey of used dishwater.

* Read Don DeLilo’s White Noise. It’s outstanding.