Part I: Life lessons through Nepal's changing landscape

July 23, 2019 by Scott Pigg

Scott Pigg, principal researcher, took a trip back to Nepal this year to visit a spot where he had some personal history. Upon visiting, he had some realizations about the stark differences between Nepal’s landscape thirty years ago and today. These harsh insights support the reasons why our team at Slipstream works so hard to make a clean energy future a reality. This is Scott’s story.

"They say you can’t go back again—that the places from your past change as gradually and irrevocably as the wrinkles and grey hairs that accumulate on your own aging body. But revisiting an old place can throw the passage of time into sharp relief and teach you things about the world and your place in it.

In the early 1980s I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, the small, land-locked country nestled against the spine of the Himalayas in South Asia. My job, as a freshly-minted engineer, was to design and build footbridges in remote mountain areas that had no roads. In my four years there, I managed to see one bridge project through to completion and meet my wife, Jane. 

Thirty-five years later, we returned to Nepal to find a country very much in the crosscurrents of global trends and climate change. What was once a country dominated by rural subsistence farmers is rapidly urbanizing as people move out of isolated mountain villages and settle in cities and along new roadways winding through the mountains.

The population of Nepal has more than doubled to about 30 million since 1980, but the population of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal’s capitol and center of gravity, has exploded by nearly a factor of ten. It seemed like every third billboard or TV ad was for cement or rebar, a testament to projections that most of the energy-consuming new buildings built in the next 50 years will go up in places like Asia and Africa.

I was able to return to the site of my long-ago bridge project. To my great relief, I found it still in use, though now referred to locally as the “old bridge.” At the time it was built, the bridge was 75 miles and days of walking from the nearest road. Now a four-wheel-drive track extends past it and another 40 miles beyond to even more remote parts of the country. The formerly empty land next to the bridge now bears an entire village of homes and shops, a school, and a police station. These people have descended from subsistence-farming settlements on the mountainsides above to seek a living along the thinnest of capillary connections to the global economy. The whole village is powered sporadically by a government-built 17 kW micro-hydro plant."

Stay tuned for more of Scott’s story. He will discuss catching up with his old friend, Dilli Bahadur Baniya, and how our differing societies play such an important role in our carbon emissions.

Nepal bridge
The footbridge Scott helped build during his time in Nepal. 

Part 2 of Life lessons through Nepal's changing landscape