UBC student biking Bangladesh to put overlooked impacts of climate change on display

A University of British Columbia student is just weeks away from cycling 900 kilometers in sweltering heat, along a road notorious for its high accident rate, in an effort to draw attention to climate change bearing the brunt of it.

Bashar Rahman, an international economics undergraduate, will start on May 1 and will cycle from the city of Tetulia at the northern tip of Bangladesh to Teknaf at the southern tip of the country.

Bangladesh is considered the seventh most vulnerable country in the world to climate disruption, according to Germanwatch’s 2021 Global Climate Risk Index. It experienced 185 extreme weather events between 2000 and 2009, scientists predict By 2050, one in seven citizens will be displaced.

Knowing this, Rahman said he was shocked to find out how little platform his country got at last year’s United Nations climate change conference compared with wealthier and less affected countries. Rahman, who represented UBC’s undergraduates at the event in Egypt, said Bangladesh — a country of 170 million people — was less represented than Quebec.

“It’s definitely going to change the dynamics of how the conversation is going,” he said.

Rahman found that the focus tends to be on countries in the global north.

The 21-year-old is determined to change that. He and a friend will use off-road bike tours to talk to Bangladeshis about climate change and make a documentary of their findings.

UBC student Bashar Rahman will set off on a 900-kilometer journey across Bangladesh on May 1 to document the impact of climate change on his home country. (Photo courtesy of Bashar Rahman)

This trip is sure to be tough. Bangladesh averages daily highs in the 30s in May, but has had several weeks in the 40s this spring. Temperatures can dip into the mid-20s at night, but Rahman said he’s unlikely to encounter fans, let alone air conditioning.

He also worries about the political climate and the dangers of cycling on Bangladesh roads, but Rahman said the risk would be worth it to him if he could get more attention for his people.

“This is my country, these are our stories, and these stories have to be highlighted globally. If it means I have to face some challenges, if it means the risk of dying, I think it’s still very good for us to do that. Important. Because if not now, then when?”

Rahman said he looks forward to hearing the many stories of homes and livelihoods lost to the weather event, as well as the economic toll on individuals and families. There will also be stories that are less obvious about climate change — families that no longer pay for their children’s education, or send young daughters to child brides so they have one less mouth to talk to, he said.

These stories are personal ones that Rahman said he felt obliged to share because he received a full scholarship to UBC and was privileged enough to collect and disseminate them.

“I can move around, but billions of people around the world – not just in Bangladesh – don’t have that luxury.”

Rahman will document his journey storiesofchange.co.

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