Nepalese Sherpas Affected by Climate Change

by Jordan Aronowitz

Cut-off from the rest of the world, the Sherpas of Nepal spend their lives in the Himalayas. Overall climate change, mainly the average increase in global temperature, has negatively affected the Himalayas, but according to a recent paper (Sherpa, 2014), the Sherpas are ill informed about these changes, and can barely define “global warming.” NGOs have strived to inform this population about the imminent dangers of climate change, but cultural barriers, such as sexism and disdain for western culture, prevent success. The Sherpas are not causing climate change, but the NGOs want to inform them about possible dangers they may face in the future, saving lives, cultures, and livelihoods.

Glacial lake outburst floods, also known as GLOFs have become increasingly common in Nepal. These floods occur when glacial melts overpower glacial dams and overflow the glacier. The rush of melted glacier water can flow for miles, and the lack of technology prevents proper warning systems from being successful. They can destroy the poorly structured buildings common in this part of the world, and most natives are not adequately informed to prepare their homes and business.

Due to Everest’s rise in tourism over the last few decades, the lives of Sherpas have become connected to the western world, but the only individuals to have frequent contact are hotel owners. Besides them, it is hard to find people to teach the dangers that climate change may have on their society. For example, when the NGOs encourage women to help, they respond with “…women are not good for these things; ask only the men to speak. We don’t know anything.” This clear lack of confidence worries outsiders.

These organizations are desperately trying to save the lives of the Sherpas, but most have no idea that average global temperatures are increasing, their own mountains are melting, and that Himalayan glaciers are causing deadly GLOFs, placing uninformed Sherpas in danger.

Sherpa, P.Y. (2014). Climate Change, Perceptions, and Social Heterogeneity in Pharak, Mount Everest Region of Nepal. Human Organization, 73(2), 153-161.


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