There’s an obvious link between the Everest Sherpa tragedy and climate change; the world is warming, meaning ice and snow at the top of Everest is at risk of melting at an increased rate, and that avalanches of snow, rock or ice may increase. The Atlantic declared 2014 as ‘The Year Climate Change Closed Everest’.
But I think the tragedy is also a useful analogy for climate change as a whole.
Climate change is happening – and it’s caused by humans
The world’s climate – like the climate of Everest – is changing. This is a direct result of human activities. And in Everest, instability is exacerbated by huge increases in the number of climbers: in the late 1970s, only a handful of climbers reached the top every year. In 2012, more than 500 did. This sharp rise in climbers is just like the sharp rise in CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution.
Climate change is already affecting people’s lives
Contrary to what many people believe, climate change isn’t some faraway problem that our children’s children will have to deal with. It’s happening now, with deadly effects – as the families of those killed in the avalanche know only too well.
Climate change is disproportionately hitting the poorest
Those worst affected by the effects of climate change – like those affected by the Everest disaster – are the poorest. Not the climbers, who pay up to £45,000 to summit the peak, but the sherpas, who “carry the heaviest loads and pay the highest prices” – their lives. And globally, it is the poorest, especially those in tropical and sub-tropical regions, who will be hit hardest – the very same people who are currently have the least food security.
We’re not doing enough to help the poorest adapt to a changing climate
Climate change-aggravated extreme weather, floods, droughts, and sea level rises are already a daily reality in many developing countries. In 2009, to kick start adaptation efforts to deal with this reality, rich countries committed to provide $30bn of funding between 2010-2012. But only 20% of these funds have been received. This is nowhere near enough to help people cope with the large-scale effects of climate change – just as the compensation package of £245 per life has been deemed insufficient by the mourning families of the Sherpas killed in April.
People are taking action – but governments aren’t listening yet
Following the disaster on Everest, the Sherpas are protesting by refusing to climb Everest this season. They’re taking a stand to protect their mountain – just like the millions of people worldwide taking a stand to protect the earth and its inhabitants from catastrophic climate change.
You can read more about the history and culture of Sherpas in this beautiful article from National Geographic.