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When Marisa Marcavillaca—a farmer and indigenous women’s organizer from Peru—spoke at Oxfam’s Sisters on the Planet Climate Leaders Summit last month, her words were quoted by everyone from Al Gore to a climate skeptic blog called Al Gore Lied.
“We are very concerned, in my community, in my country, about global climate change,” Marcavillaca said through a translator. “We are seeing the impacts on a daily basis. We are losing our lands; our waters are disappearing. … It rains when it shouldn’t rain. There are freezing temperatures when there shouldn’t be freezing temperatures.”
At first, the idea of global warming actually bringing cooler temperatures might indeed seem counter-intuitive. But that’s the reality that many indigenous people are facing in the high altitudes of Peru, where marginalized communities have taken root on the very limits of habitable terrain. I visited some of these communities a few years back, and I still remember the compact stone houses, perched on the edge of impossibly steep mountain slopes. I remember the farmers’ stepped fields—some pitched at almost a ninety-degree angle—and the fragile, unlikely green shoots emerging from the soil.
When life is so precarious, any shift in weather—not just colder temperatures, but changes in rainfall, even floods—can have lasting consequences.
“Our seeds are degenerating, which means that our yields are down and we are losing our livelihoods,” said Marcavillaca. “Where we cannot sustain economies locally, what we see is our youth leaving and going to cities, which means that our culture is being dismembered. Our cultural identity is being lost. And our Andean cultural identity is the most important thing we have.”
With additional resources, people can find ways to adapt to changes in the climate. Marcavillaca, for example, talked about a seed bank founded by women in her community, giving them a reserve to fall back on in times of shortage.
But communities need our support to put these solutions in place, and to generate that support we need voices like Maravillaca’s. She and her fellow climate witnesses are determined to speak out, whether they’re meeting with reporters, members of Congress, or everyday Americans.
There are definitely climate skeptics out there. And there are believers as well—lots of them. Yet no matter which side you’re on, the immediacy of one voice, of a real person’s story, is a hard thing to ignore.