From climate change denial to Climate Reality Leadership

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Tarek Rabai is a marketing manager for date crops, which represent 2% of the GDP of his country, Tunisia. Surprisingly, he admits to having been a climate change denier until last year, when he evaluated the data more carefully.  His commitment to responding to the challenge that he now recognizes is threatening his country, including the date sector, has been strengthened since he attended the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Denver, Colorado, in March 2017.

Shortly after the training, he and 3 other Climate Reality Leaders and UC Davis Humphrey Fellows from Mexico, Morocco and Pakistan presented on the reality and implications of climate change in their respective countries. Tarek talked about the challenges that Tunisia is facing, with a focus on the date industry.
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The obvious, already visible consequences of climate change in this country include:

  • Rainfall has dropped by 30% in recent years and some communities, especially in the south, are cut off from water for days at a time. Climate change is taking the blame.  Crops of olives are suffering.  The government is suggesting prayer, and they are worrying that thirst will lead to unrest as the north takes scarce water from the south.  Water scarcity is an increasing problem.
  • The Mediterranean climate is shifting. Monsoons now bring heavy rains, while extreme heat events have reached 52 °C.
  • The islands of Tunisia are drowning. These main tourist attractions are losing close to 1 meter a year to erosion and sea level rise. There are no plans for the residents when the islands disappear.
  • Lack of water impacts the quality and quantity of the harvest.
  • Tourism is declining due to coastal erosion and cloudiness of the beautiful clear waters.
  • Health is threatened with more epidemics and viruses.
  • Regionalism and social issues emerge as people migrate north to escape from the dry south.
  • Dates are failing to grow sweet because the night temperatures stay too hot, and a new insect has invaded that destroys them.

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In his presentation, Tarek argued that Tunisia needs to undertake major efforts right away in these areas:

  • A matter of conscience – 10-11 million are still climate deniers, because the truth hurts. Yet like him, they must accept reality.
  • Institutional actions – They need a department that deals specifically with climate change.
  • Legislative solutions – Regulations are needed.
  • Lack of data and statistics – This needs to be a priority.
  • Communication – Climate change must be included in school and university curriculum.

Acknowledging the difficult changes ahead for his country, Tarek has come a long way from his initial climate change denial  to being a Climate Reality Leader championing climate action.
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