Over the years, Nepal has hosted any number of events related to climate change, hardly surprising considering we live in the shadow of the Himalaya, the ‘third pole’. Receding glaciers and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) are only, if you’ll excuse the pun, the tip of the iceberg in this regard.
Many such events have been limited to publicity stunts: if turning the lights off for ‘Earth Hour’ in a nation chafing against power cuts is harmless enough one can’t say the same for flying a cabinet of politicians up to Everest Base Camp (and 600 delegates to Copenhagen) in the lead-up to climate negotiations. Climate change has never been cooler (or hotter, if you prefer), but few comprehend what exactly it means for Nepal, and what we should do about it.
The Integrated Centre for Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is well positioned to explain. It has been conducting scientific research in the eight countries of the Hindu-Kush Himalaya for three decades, but more recently has concentrated on outreach to the communities that live in the Himalaya. The major multimedia exhibition Climate+Change could be seen as the culmination of this approach, and ICIMOD found worthy partners in the American Embassy, UNICEF, Thinc and photo.circle, among others.
The permanent exhibition, which opened at the Nepal Art Council in December, was impressively comprehensive. The ground floor introduced visitors to climate change in urban Nepal through text (in English and Nepali), photos, visuals and installations, the most striking of which were the plastic cubes sealing in found objects from the beleaguered Bagmati River – batteries, locks of hair, used condoms – which said as much about the recent history of our civilisation as about our attitudes towards the environment. The first floor, in turn, focused on the importance of transboundary cooperation in addressing risks. But it was the top floor, with GlacierWorks’ sweeping Himalayan vistas interspersed with short profiles of mountain residents, including Everest summiteer Apa Sherpa, which really brought home the reality of climate change in Nepal – a veritable Damocles’ Sword if there was one.
The genius of Climate+Change, however, has found expression in the wild variety of events it has hosted, from the ICIMOD Haat Bazaar featuring agro-products from across the Hindu Kush to treasure hunts and critical mass cycling events. Students in particular have been encouraged to visit and make use of the activity room (with free wi-fi) on the ground floor, when they are not engaging in the Saturday workshops or attending screenings of Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ or the animation classic ‘Fern Gully’. A series of seminars, including on how Nepal’s tourism could adapt to climatic challenges, provided platforms for discussion. The ever-popular PechaKucha staged its latest edition on February 23, with mini-presentations ranging from the hazards of medical waste to sustainable housing.
Finally, the temporary exhibits, including the eye-catching creations of SUS.TAIN.KTM, have highlighted the emotional impact of environmental issues. Zadie Smith notes that ‘there are hardly any intimate words’ for climate change, so when Nepali artists express their shock and disgust at what is happening to their neighbourhoods, they take us with them: the first step to effecting positive change rather than submitting to it.
Sometimes the longevity of an exhibition is its worst enemy. But all good things come to an end, although the organizers’ outreach with the travelling BookBus means it’s not just Kathmandu that has benefited from certain inconvenient truths. Climate+Change runs for another week, even as the valley begins to simmer for the summer. So what better time and place to make sense of the IPCC’s latest, sobering findings?