Trip Reflections by Colleen Earp

The Presbyterian Hunger Program delegation to Peru has been an amazing journey thus far. On Saturday, we stopped in La Oroya, a town badly affected by local mining and smelting projects carried out by international corporations. A local man named Wilmer met with our group to tell us about some of the social, political, and economic issues related to the environmental problems.


We learned that in addition to acid rain, poisoned rivers, and respiratory illness from the mining process there are many other difficult situations happening in this area in the Andes. The transition from mostly agriculture to mostly mining lead to an unbalanced local economy, land sales from families to big multinational mining companies, great disparity between the wealth and impoverished, and the aggregation of land rights to bigger and bigger companies, making access to local resources increasingly difficult for the people who live there. There are big disagreements among community members about land use and sales, which further limits their collective ability to defend themselves against being sacrificed so that the rest of the world can enjoy a little more copper and silver.


Climate change exacerbates all of these issues. As weather patterns become more erratic, agriculture and health are affected in many ways. Access to water and food becomes more difficult. Natural disasters are more frequent and less predictable. Land is lost. Homes are lost. People are list.


This desperately complicated situation is not unfamiliar to me. As a Young Adult Volunteer in South Louisiana last year, I watched as the oil and gas industries interfered with local economies, environments, and public health in a similar way, and I learned how the changing climate makes all of it worse.


And that’s the thing of it—this is happening in La Oroya and elsewhere in Peru, in Louisiana, and in many other places around the world. Climate change affects everyone, because we live on one planet all together, with one atmosphere, with one finite source of water. The immediate effects may be local but this is a global concern.


It’s very scary, but I am not without hope. Being here as a representative of PC(USA) to  bear witness to the conversations that will take place in and around COP20 this week is a tremendous gift. There are so many global citizens who are concerned and aching for answers and solutions. I find it reassuring to be part of this growing community, and I’m excited for the work that lies ahead, no matter how challenging it will be.

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