Shifting Sands From San José to Sharm El-Sheikh
November was filled with Egyptian-centered climate conversations
The year’s most important two weeks of climate discussion happened last month off the coast of the Red Sea. Thousands of world leaders and diplomats gathered in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh for the United Nation’s yearly climate summit, COP27, to discuss the current situation and see what can be done to further climate action. The talks ranged from arguments about climate-related loss and damage payments to suggestions about restructuring global finance conventions. While an Egyptian summit on the global issue of climate change and world finance might seem a bit beyond concern to the daily life of a Californian, the intersection is actually quite close to home.
After all, the Bay Area houses the famous Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, which contains the “largest collection of authentic ancient Egyptian artifacts on display in Western North America.” Any of you who grew up in the Bay Area may have fond memories of visiting the museum in your youth; every year tens of thousands of middle schoolers pass through its doors to learn about ancient Egypt, marking it as a seminal site in the educational journeys of many South Bay residents. If you were to visit the museum today, you would find a bright, blue banner hanging above the front entrance, proudly stating: “WE’RE NET ZERO CARBON. YOU CAN DO IT TOO!”
The museum took steps in 2017 to lower its energy use, increase efficiency, and switch to carbon-free, solar-powered electricity. As a result, it is now a net-zero carbon building and featured on the city of San José’s website as a standout example of such. After a recent visit and viewing of a 2,000 year old cat mummy, I had the chance to speak with Julie Scott, the director of the Rosicrucian Park and the current Grand Master of the Rosicrucian Order’s English Grand Lodge for the Americas. She told me that the economics of the change were not as attractive as they are now, but the change was nonetheless necessary, saying “it was so important that our organization bases our business on the values of the Rosicrucian Order.” The Order’s philosophy of sustainability motivated their shift along with their recognition of climate change as the world’s gravest threat: “there is no greater, pressing issue.”
Though the Earth’s climate is currently changing at a rapid pace, the rate is still geological and may feel slow to the human perspective. This makes it hard to really internalize climate change as an immediately imposing threat. But we can see a vivid example of what changing climates can cause if we, like the museum, take a closer look at Egypt’s history.
Scott noted that “Egypt provides one of the most stark examples of what happens with climate change” since it was not always covered in the dunes of sand we see today. Changes in regional climate 10,000 years ago turned most of the desert into a habitable savannah where animals and people thrived. After thousands of years of lush life, another change took place: rains receded, and the land began to morph into the now well-known serpentine sands. As ecosystems collapsed, people were forced to abandon their homes and move closer to the still verdant Nile Valley, leading to the formation of pharaonic society. As time went on, climate continued to play a role, with further climate changes coinciding with major societal ones, such as the fall of Egypt’s Old Kingdom in the 22nd century BC.
While these changes were natural, they highlight the impact climate change can have. With our current human-caused shifting climate, we can expect to see similarly significant changes, which makes it all the more important that we act to mitigate and adapt. The international talks and yearly summits like COP27 are vital steps to ensure global progress is at least being attempted—however these talks are hollow without national and individual action.
The Museum is a great example for such steps. In addition to their clean energy efforts, they also filled their garden with drought-resistant, native plants, and they recommend everyone try the same; eliminating lawns is one of the most effective ways to reduce water use. And while individual change is a necessary step, too, it is not enough without significant political action. In our talk, Scott noted that lawn change is a great personal step but emphasized the importance of informed and environmentally conscious voting.
Climate change is a global issue so dispersed in space and time that it is hard to internalize as a truly grave threat. But it impacts all of us; like the ancient Egyptians, it can and will dictate where we live, the food we eat, and the lives we lead. It is caused by individual action and requires individual change, spurred on by political prioritization. Voting and advocating for more climate-forward politics—more international agreements, more national decarbonization efforts, and more local climate action plans—is what we need to make that happen.