BSA Climate Change Panel: The growing issue of climate change in Bangladesh

The Bangladesh Student Association holds a panel discussion on climate change in the Dodd Center on Thursday night. Panelists focussed on the effects of climate change in impoverished communities. (Photo by Maggie Chafouleas/The Daily Campus)

The Bangladeshi Student Association held a climate change panel Thursday to discuss the growing climate crisis and how it has been affecting more at-risk countries like Bangladesh. They invited four experts on the crisis: Ambassador Masud Bin Momen, Martha Lerski, Ashley Toombs and Probal Rashid.

Momen is the permanent representative of the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations, and is thus very well versed in the effects of climate change on his country. He said erratic weather caused by climate change is affecting food production and causing an increase in malnourishment in more at-risk parts of the world. It has also contributed to poverty, conflict and declining economies, which in turn has caused huge migrations of people from their homelands.

He said that although countries like Bangladesh contribute a comparatively small amount of greenhouse gas emissions, they are the ones hit the hardest by its consequences. For this reason, Bangladesh has taken on a very progressive approach to reversing the effects of climate change.

“The cost of climate change is too high,” Momen said. “However, the cost of inaction is even higher.”

According to Momen, Bangladesh is committed to decreasing global warming to below two degrees Celsius. This is done by viewing climate change not as a challenge, but as an opportunity to help the environment and create jobs. In their mission to combat climate change, the Bangladeshi government was one of the first to sign the Paris Agreement. In order to comply with the goals of this agreement, they have given themselves an allotted amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the year, and thus have to conserve the amount they use. They have also tried to focus their new developments to be more environmentally friendly and safe against the altering climate, as well as invented a type of climate-resistant rice to feed their malnourished people.

He closed his speech by directly addressing the college students in the audience. He told them the younger generation needs to take a stand against actions that aggravate climate change. He said that we are the ones that are going to have to make sure support in the form of funds and technology are sent to the at-risk nations so they can stand a chance against global warming. He said that we need to constantly push to make sure the rules of the agreements and treaties against climate change are being adhered to.

“Let us turn ourselves to change-makers and make our planet livable for generations to come,” Momen said.

The second speaker, Martha Lerski, is a librarian and a sculptor who has a very specific interest in how climate change is affecting and destroying cultural heritage. She mainly talked about her time spent studying culture on the island of Barbuda just before it was hit and demolished by a Category Five hurricane. Due to the rising sea level and the rise of increasingly violent tropical storms, Barbuda was left a blank slate, which was the perfect target for private companies to buy out. As private developers pave over turtle breeding grounds and old family homes, the thriving culture of Barbuda is beginning to fade. Lerski said this was terrible because people’s emotional well-being is intrinsically tied to culture, and so it is incredibly important that efforts are made to stop climate change.

“I guess I thought climate change would be a little more gradual,” Cerina Jabbour, a first-semester environmental engineering major, said. “I know there’s been hurricanes and devastating effects, but I didn’t realize how quickly it was happening even now.”

Lerski said that more at-risk areas like Amsterdam and Bangladesh have made great strides toward combating global warming, but less-affected areas like the U.S. haven’t done much to help. Where Bangladesh immediately signed the Paris Agreement, the U.S. pulled out of it in 2017. Where Amsterdam allows its rivers to flow naturally, the U.S. curves them, thus creating erosion and altering ecosystems, as well as putting different places at risk for flooding. In 2012, North Carolina passed a law that allowed agencies to disregard scientific models of expected rising sea-levels and allowed for coastal developments to boom in dangerous flood-zones. Lerski said that if the U.S. and other major nations didn’t follow the Bangladesh and the Netherlands’ example to limit CO2 emissions, then cities far away like Dhaka in Bangladesh will suffer for it.

“Take what appears to be shattered and create dialogue,” Lerski said.

“It’s easy when the government works with people to stop climate change, but in our case, it’s going to be a lot more difficult,” Jabbour said.

The third speaker, Toombs, is the director of external affairs of Bangladesh Rural Advancement Communities (BRAC) U.S.A., and has been to Bangladesh eight times. She mainly focused on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. She said that prior to this crisis, Cox’s Bazar had been a protected forest. Now its wildlife has been displaced, the chopping down of trees has created erosion and flooding threatens the refugees.

BRAC and the Bangladeshi government have teamed up to try and fortify the bamboo structures the refugees lodge in, create drains to guide runoff and plant trees and fast-growing vegetables that will both feed the refugees as well as prevent further erosion. They have also planted biogas plants for waste disposal and created community kitchens to preserve gas and create a gathering space for Rohingya women. All of these steps have been taken not only to help the refugees, but to create a space that won’t be harmful to the environment and to fix the damage done by deforestation.

The final speaker, the Bengali photojournalist Rashid, was running late, and was only able to talk briefly on the phone to the audience. Luckily, a small film of his footage of the flooding in Bangladesh allowed for audience members to better connect with the Bangladeshi people and the environmental problems they have been facing.

“There is water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” Rashid said.

While the news is always full of scientists and politicians going head to head about climate change, it never shows the extent of what’s happening in places more at risk than the U.S. This panel was eye-opening for many of the students in the room.

“I found that there’s a lot of things we got to raise awareness of as a society,” Samin Chowdhury, a third-semester computer science and engineering major, said. “So many people are affected by this event that we just discussed about, and that there’s so many variables that go into it when it comes to factors that involve climate change. And there’s a lot of things that people need to agree on as people before we can move on with anything.”


Rebecca Maher is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rebecca.maher@uconn.edu.