How Studying Abroad Has Shown Me That the Earth Is Something We All Have in Common

Imagine this: It’s 45°F outside. You walk into your house shivering, and you never stop shivering because there’s no central heating in your apartment, leaving your living space the same temperature as the outdoors.

A cloudy day in Vina Del Mar, wondering how cold it is in my friend’s apartment

Imagine this: Your tour guide for Rainbow Mountain in Peru explains to you that this geological wonder was only discovered two years ago, because any time before that, the mountain was always covered in snow.

My tour guide, Priscili, and I on our way up the mountain

Imagine this: You’re talking to a local fisherman about how life has changed over the years, and his response is “some days you used to come to the beach and find thousands of fish, all different kinds of fish, washed up on the beach. Now, to catch only some of those kinds of fish, you have to be miles out at sea with high-tech equipment.”

Local fisherman, Juan, at Caleta Portales in Recreo, Chile

Imagine this: All of these circumstances are connected, and I have experienced all of them within the past week.

It took traveling to a different continent and leaping out of my comfort zone to realize the most important epiphany of my life: the earth is something all we have common, and we have reached an extremely severe point of destruction.

Here’s a breakdown of what I have learned about climate change throughout my first month in Chile, and how your actions and knowledge about the subject can make an impact.

#1: At Home

Some friends bundled up at a restaurant in Valparaiso

Many Chileans say that the country is in an “energy crisis,” which is true on a global level. Because of this, they are extremely frugal with their energy use. There is no central heating. If you’re cold, put on a sweater. It’s also customary (and by customary, I mean a requirement) to wear slippers around the house, so your feet stay warm. Showers are kept to under 10 minutes. Before you leave for the day, unplug all your outlets from the wall. Very few households have dishwashers. And if you leave a light on while not in the room, then get ready for a rapid lecture in Spanish from your host mother.

How you matter: Use these practices not only in Chile, but in your daily life. Before you crank up the thermostat (which also increases the utility bills which you hate paying anyway!), put on your favorite sweater and your fuzzy socks. Think about your daily consumption and how it affects your finances and your earth.

#2: In the Andes

This Peruvian family “adopted” me at the top of Rainbow Mountain

Within the last five years, a glacier cap in the Andes melted, revealing an incredible display of colored minerals blanketing a mountain. The revelation of this tourist destination displays that every day our climates are warming, changing our landscapes, and we are losing crucial freshwater sources.

How you matter: As the human population grows, the demand for fresh water explodes and our supply of fresh water is depleted. This is one of the largest second-order effects from climate change. Although your individual actions can turn our situation around, the power of communities and coalitions exponentially increase your impact. If this post has interested you or motivated you, I encourage you to click on this link to locate nearby groups working on the environmental crisis.

#3: At the Port

A man tying fishnets at the port

The fisherman I previously mentioned- Juan- is one of the most intelligent men I have met, and he is living proof that our relationship with the natural world has detrimental effects on not only wild organisms (like fish), but our ability to make a profit off these creatures. His words alone show us how much humans have impacted the environment: “my father was a fisherman, as was his father, and his father, and so is my son. My grandson, however, he will do something else. This is a broken industry, and for his time, it will not be enough.”

How you matter: If you have the ability to grow your own vegetables, catch your own fish (or game), purchase only what you need, and buy local/organic food, we could eliminate a large percentage of our carbon footprint.

Por Fin

I have found home in the unknown and the ability to reflect upon my daily activities in Chile by thinking about, discussing, and acting on climate. I hope this post helps demonstrate how incredible this planet is, and why we should take care of it.  

Ericka Bremer is a student at University of Denver. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA Service Learning in Viña del Mar, Chile.


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