Yale Himalaya Initiative

environment | livelihood | culture

Pasang Sherpa on climate change in Humla, Nepal

By: Amanda Mei

Pasang Yangjee Sherpa, an anthropologist from Nepal, joined the Yale Himalaya Initiative Tuesday evening for a discussion about climate change in her country. Interested in locals’ knowledge of and responses to the changing climate, Sherpa spoke about her research in the Humla district, as well as her previous work in the Everest district of Solukhumbu. She maintains a personal and professional interest in the region where “climate change in its multiple forms is still an everyday lived reality.”

In the remote Humla district, two plane rides northwest of Kathmandu, Sherpa observed that local experiences of climate change did not match official language and responses to the issue. Village men, for example, attributed climate change to electricity and greenhouses introduced by development offices. They showed concern for issues such as food security and poverty, while experiencing changes in temperature and water resources. In order to encourage rainfall, shamans or spiritual healers performed rituals on the hillsides to the gods — for example by angering the gods with polluted objects.

“If we are to understand climate change from the local level in Humla, we have to think about the gods,” Sherpa said.

Sherpa also observed that local development offices with government and local employees approached climate change from a different, scientific perspective. Responses took the form of Local Adaptation Plans of Action (LAPAs), particularly in vulnerable locations such as Humla that ranks among the most impoverished and least developed in Nepal. LAPA officials focus “solely on external effects” of climate change, dismissing local beliefs as “superstitions,” according to Sherpa.

The institutional language of climate change is not always comprehensible to locals. Sherpa interviewed one woman who did not understand the “talk of men.” As a woman, Sherpa experienced some difficulties in accessing the knowledge of men. But she was more able to draw out the experiences of women. Sherpa said that marginalized stakeholders such as women and indigenous people have a valuable voice in climate change.

Sherpa also mentioned the valuable work done by the government and over 70 NGOs that have installed facilities such as drinking fountains in the Humla district. Other institutional efforts, such as a workshop at the base of Mount Everest in Solukhumbu, raise awareness about climate change and prepare people for its effects. But knowing and responding to climate change happens primarily at the local level — in a way no outsider can predict.

Sherpa offered some advice: “If you’re going to Nepal, you should bring an open mind.”

Now a postdoctoral fellow at the New School, Sherpa researches the Sacred Kailash Landscape supported by the Sacred Himalaya Initiative. She previously lectured at Penn State University and studied anthropology at Washington State University.