The first time I walked into a Peruvian grocery store, they asked me if I brought my own bag, or if I wanted to pay for one of their biodegradable bags. At the on-campus café at my university, they provide paper straws instead of plastic ones. Walking around even the tiniest and most remote Andean villages, there are separate containers for recycling paper, plastic, and glass.
These are only a few, mainly urban, examples of how Peruvians are changing their lifestyles in acknowledgment of the disproportionately anthropic contributions to global carbon dioxide emissions. These sustainable changes are not evenly distributed throughout the country, but then, neither is the national carbon footprint. Agrarian Andean communities often live subsistence-based lifestyles with just about the least carbon footprint a human can be expected to generate over the course of a lifetime.
Urban Limeñans contribute relatively higher carbon emissions with their globalized city lifestyles, but even city-dwellers have a small carbon footprint compared to the average American. Peru ranks 128th for per-capita CO2 emissions out of 220 countries assessed by a 2014 report from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center1. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t still striving for better. They know that the consequences of climate change will be disproportionately felt by coastal cities like Lima and agriculture-dependent communities such as those throughout the Peruvian Andes and Amazon.
In fact, most Peruvians seem to be on the same page about climate change: that it exists and that it is already impacting their lives. Perú doesn’t have time for climate change denial, and they know it. I was inspired to write this blog on a drive through a small Andean town where I saw a billboard featuring a Peruvian family hiding under umbrellas from an angry cartoon sun beneath the words “CAMBIO CLIMÁTICO”. It’s scary because they don’t know how harmful climate change will be, or when the worst will come. Their weather is already changing, their glaciers are melting, and their rainforest is burning.
The good news is that Perú is not alone in fighting climate change. I have been so inspired by the Fridays for Future climate strikes and marches taking place around the world, and it is amazing to think that while I marched with my new friends in the southern hemisphere, my friends in the United States were doing the same. No country is alone in this fight — we have all contributed to the problem and we will all face the consequences until we work together to fix it. One Peruvian grocery store handing out biodegradable bags is not the solution, but it’s an important action nonetheless. It shows a commitment to being more responsible consumers, even when it’s inconvenient. It proves the power of daily individual choices across a large scale. Most importantly, it demands that if the 128th highest per-capita CO2 emitting country has a role in finding a climate solution, surely the top offenders can do more.