This school is on the front lines of climate change Climate change is an everyday reality for students and teachers living in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. At one school, they are trying to learn more about the forces that could upend their lives.

'It could just sweep us away': This school is on the front lines of climate change

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1133855157/1136342628" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Kids around the world are feeling the effects of global warming. The United Nations estimates that about 1 billion children are at extreme risk because of climate change, and they're trying to make sense of a future where risk are the norm. NPR's climate team recently visited a school that is on the front lines of climate change in the Himalayan mountains. Here's reporter Rebecca Hersher.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: It's never fully quiet at the Rolwaling Sangag Choling Monastery School. There is always - always - the sound of water. The Rolwaling River starts just a few miles upstream of here, where multiple massive glaciers are melting.

(SOUND OF WATER TRICKLING)

HERSHER: On the river's bank, next to the school, there's a path. It's a two-day walk to the closest road if you're moving fast. Behind the school is a steep, rocky mountainside, shooting up thousands of feet to peaks that are among the tallest in the world and which, today, have just a dusting of snow.

Forty-two-year-old Bolendra Acharya has taught at the school for over a decade. As we talked, the students were playing volleyball as the sun dipped behind the mountains.

BOLENDRA ACHARYA: (Through interpreter) We teach a wide variety of subjects here - math, science, history, English.

HERSHER: Plus religious training. This is a Buddhist monastery school for boys.

ACHARYA: (Non-English language spoken).

HERSHER: He explains that the students here are training to be lamas, spiritual leaders who will eventually be expected to help the people who live in the valley make sense of what's happening in this rapidly changing area. Global warming is affecting high mountain areas profoundly. Acharya has witnessed it firsthand.

ACHARYA: (Through interpreter) I'm not just a teacher at this school, I'm a local of this area, and I've witnessed a lot of changes in my lifetime.

HERSHER: For example, he says, when he was a child, the mountains were blanketed in deep snow. Now snow only covers the very tops of many peaks. The glaciers at the top of this valley are disappearing. They've been replaced with a huge lake that could easily flood communities downstream. And most notably for him, the rain here has gotten more unpredictable, which is a problem if you live along a river.

ACHARYA: (Through interpreter) There used to be a very reliable seasonal calendar. We would know when the river would be higher or lower, so we would know when it was safe to cross.

HERSHER: Heavy rain used to only happen in the summer, but recently there's been less rain in the summer and sometimes heavy downpours and flooding at other times of year.

ACHARYA: (Through interpreter) Now it seems like at any time, it could just sweep us away. There is a kind of fear among us. Anything could happen.

HERSHER: The students feel the changes too, although they seem less alarmed and more curious.

MINGMA THAMANG: Hello, my name is Mingma Thamang. I'm now - I'm 18 years old.

HERSHER: Thamang is almost ready to graduate, and he says he's noticed the weather changing. And he's heard rumors that someday there could be a big flood here, which is true. This valley is at high risk from flooding because of climate change. I ask him what else he knows about global warming.

THAMANG: (Speaking Nepali).

HERSHER: He continues, speaking in Nepali, that he'd like to know more.

THAMANG: (Speaking Nepali).

HERSHER: "I want to learn more about the environment," he explains, "because then maybe we can do something to make it cleaner and safer." His classmate, a quiet 14-year-old named Pravateni Sherpa, nods along next to him. He would also like to know more.

Acharya is working to get newer textbooks and other teaching materials so that he can begin formally teaching students here about the causes and effects of climate change. He says it's important for them to understand why there's less snow and less ice and more variable rain and flooding.

ACHARYA: (Through interpreter) We are not the people polluting the environment. It's factories and cities, especially out in the bigger world. It's not people like us, living in rural areas, that are contributing to the damage of the earth.

HERSHER: He says it's the responsibility of big countries, like the U.S., to stop polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. And that is what he plans to teach.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

RASCOE: Pragati Shahi contributed to this story.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ RYOW'S "MIRAGE FEAT. MARCUS D")

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.