by abby mohaupt
The Reverend abby mohaupt is the moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA. She is a PhD student in the Religion, Culture, and Ecology program at Drew Theological School in Madison, NJ.
I’m sitting now in a café, drinking café Americano, after talking with one of the teachers at the Spanish school I’m attending. To say that our conversation about future tense went off track would be an understatement. At some point, we began to talk about climate change. We talked about how some people don’t believe in it and that we are afraid about the future.
And then I asked her about the Paris Accords, and how people in the United States talk about how Nicaragua also didn’t sign, but because it believes the Accords weren’t strong enough.
She asked me about the power of money—and if I believed in it.
She asked me if I believed that a country like Nicaragua—ready to sell itself to China for a canal in its big fresh water lake—really was better than any other country, with higher standards for climate change.
She asked me if I remembered that they’ve had the same president for decades, and that while my president will do dumb things, we can get rid of him in four years if we want to. They won’t.
She wondered why Nicaragua—a small country (her words)—couldn’t just sign the document with all the other countries. What would it hurt to work with the rest of the world in the face of global crisis?
We sat together, pondering those questions, looking for hope.
So, that’s the perspective of one person from Nicaragua, telling her own story about her country and climate change. It's a perspective that challenges my perspective and how I tell the story as an American, and I'm grateful.
From June 16:
Tomorrow I will board a plane to travel to Nicaragua for the third time in three years. The first two trips were part of a class I co-taught at Stanford University on Liberation Theology. My colleagues and I took about ten students each trip to visit with Christian base communities and to hear their stories. We also met with eco-activists and went to visit Lake Nicaragua, which has been threatened with a canal that would destroy the ecosystems dependent on the lake.
There are two stories from those trips that have stuck with me and emphasize some of the environmental issues in the country.
The first is from one of the base communities in a small town. The community told us about how they’ve been there since the revolution (which led to land reform and access to land for people who are poor) but that they have struggled to access clean water. There was a pipeline to a water tank, but the owner of the water tank refused to give the community access to the water despite years of negotiations. Instead, he blew up the tank. Sitting with the community as they told this story, I was struck by the hospitality and care the community showed us, even as they struggled for something as necessary to life as water. What would my mentality be if I were struggling for life?
The second story is from our visit to Lake Nicaragua our second year. One of our master’s level students was interested in doing her thesis on the canal, and so had done a lot of additional research on the efforts to save the lake. She was prepared to see the beautiful lakeside, a place that had inspired environmental activism. On our trip, we drove to the lake via the highway and entered a park where there were many families gathered to picnic. We went on a boat ride and swam in the lake, but when I turned to look at this particular student, she was crying. “I thought it would be pristine,” she said. “But there’s litter here too. I wanted it to be perfect.” Together we reflected on how the lake was worth fighting for even if people littered the land around it and perhaps because the place was well-worn. Still, her tears and her hopes for a place worth saving have stayed with me. I have wondered what it means to care for a place.
My trip to Nicaragua this year is on the heels of a U.S. Presidential decision that connects these two countries. The United States joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only three countries who will not be part of the Paris Accords.
Nicaragua did not sign the Paris Accords because its government felt that agreement was not strict enough, and that the agreement did not hold governments in the developed world accountable for their disproportionate contributions to climate change.
Climate change has created sacrifice zones, areas that will be destroyed or altered as temperatures and sea levels rise. In her book This Changes Everything Naomi Klein describes sacrifice zones as isolated, poor places where “residents lack political power, usually having to do with some combination of race, language and class.” These are places and people that have been written off by privileged people. This dismissal is what the Nicaraguan government believes the Paris Accords continue.
There have been some efforts at responding to the inequity and to creating a solution. The Greenhouse Development Rights were created to “recognize the West’s greater responsibility for climate change.” Such a treaty understands the lighter responsibility of countries that are not in the developed West and begins to balance the political scales of global power. It and other economic endeavors like the “Marshall Plan for the Earth” also seek to address the injustice of how industrializing countries “whose people have contributed little to the climate crisis” must give up future development in the reality of climate change. This concept of climate debt is intimately connected with global economic and political power. Naomi Klein describes it as such:
The climate is changing as a result of two-hundred-odd years of accumulated emissions, that means that the countries that have been powering their economics with fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution have done far more to cause temperatures to rise than those that just to in on the globalization game.
Understanding the difference in responsibility for climate change requires recognizing and listening to contexts and the people in them. It also requires a willingness to understand global power and assumption.
This trip to Nicaragua, I will spend the bulk of my time in language school, so that I can better listen to the stories of the people. But I’ll also be exploring a variety of industries and interviewing several people who dream of a world that is more just. I’ll spend time learning more about a place in this world that is worth protecting—as this whole planet is.
 Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2014) 310.
 Klein 417.
 Klein 409.