One thing I have learned from my years in Malawi is the value of resilience. So many people face so much adversity yet refuse to admit defeat and carry on against the odds to sustain families, institutions and communities.
If we are to survive the climate crisis it looks like we will all need qualities of resilience. The recent publication of Bill MacGuire’s Hothouse Earth has demonstrated that the climate is changing for the worse far quicker than predicted by early climate models. We have missed our chance to take remedial action and must look forward to a world plagued by intense summer heat, extreme drought, devastating floods, reduced crop yields, rapidly melting ice sheets and surging sea levels. Despite this horrifying prospect, we have so far completely failed to produce the quality of political leadership that is needed to meet the emergency – as illustrated by the current Tory leadership contest in the UK.
One place where there was a strong temptation to give up is Majete Wildlife Reserve, in the south of Malawi. During the early 1990s, one of the effects of the nearby Mozambiquan civil war was to put high-power weapons in the hands of poachers. The result was that all the big game in Majete were wiped out. It looked like the end.
Today, as I just discovered on a weekend outing, the situation has been completely turned around. A great diversity of wild game have been reintroduced, including the famous “big five,” and the reserve is flourishing – a magnificent environment. It has taken a dedicated effort both by wildlife professionals and the local communities around the reserve but, working together, they have produced an amazing result.
It is not all bliss, however. Majete was one of the areas most heavily hit when Cyclone Ana struck earlier this year. It destroyed a dam and re-routed the Shire River, demonstrating the power of the extreme weather events that are becoming increasingly common.
This presents a stark reminder of what we are up against, not only locally but also globally. So bleak is the outlook that it will be tempting to give up hope. The story of Majete reminds us that it is possible to change things for the better, even in terms of the natural environment. Together we need to discover the resilience, imagination and commitment to turn around our current trajectory.