Tomorrow morning marks the beginning of a two week eco project in Grenada – a simultaneous greening of a historic plantation inn and the filming of a documentary which highlights Grenada’s tremendous accomplishments on the world stage of leadership in sustainability and climate activism. My team (of volunteers- are they amazing or what?!) consists of Jamie Jones (Photographer and Videographer), Aimee Gerot (Team Assistant and Liaison), Andy Meakins (Architectural Design and Planning), and Kody Jones (Construction Captain and Problem Solver). We are enthusiastic to participate in a project that is rooted in Grenada success and Grenadian talent- our lineup is packed with movers and shakers, including organic farmers, women small business owners, inspired politicians, and leaders in sustainability, just to name a few. I will post regularly – if you know of something in Grenada that we should know about, chime in!
(Note- this post will be located under the “special projects” tab)
I have never been to Saipan or walked on the beaches of the American Memorial Park, but this picture caught my attention this week (and apparently the attention of National Geographic). The shot is taken in, ironically named, American Park in Saipan, and the location is clearly losing topsoil, nutrients, and the ability to support plant life due to wave action. The photo is beautiful but sad, and reminds me of other locations I have seen around the world where trees give way over time to the sea. The photo of Saipan belongs to Mamang Sorbetero.
Link to short feature: http://news.yahoo.com/photos/national-geographic-your-shot-slideshow/national-geographic-your-shot-photo-1334189822.html
I love the Marshall Islands because it is my home. There is no place like home. it’s very different than here. I love the beautiful sun and warm rain year around. I love the people there. Marshallese people are the kindest and nicest people. I know almost everyone there.
I really miss the Marshall Islands.
I miss my friends and family that are still there. I miss hanging out with my old classmates and playing basketball everyday. I miss working at my grandfather’s company. I miss having those Sunday BBQ with my mom, dad, and siblings. My dad and my younger brother would always have their fishing gear ready. While I’m the one busy cooking, they’ll be tossing their lines and stand on the sea-wall and fish. I miss that atmosphere – it is very different than here. It’s really hard to explain how different, maybe because it’s my home. Spending time with my family and friends is one thing I really miss about home.
During my 20 years of living in the Marshall Islands I have noticed climate change happening. The islands are getting smaller. The beach is almost completely gone due to coastal erosion. The land and soil is being washed away slowly and slowly. I see that the Marshall Islands are getting smaller, but I can’t do anything to change it. Every year during the king tide season, I remember it not being a big deal. This is when I was younger, probably 8 or 9 years old. Now it’s different – you can see the water flooding the streets and homes. In high school, during king tide season, I remember being late to school because of traffic and roads being shut down because of flooding. I have a feeling it’s even worse than my last visit.
People in the Marshall Islands know that climate change is happening, but they don’t worry about it. “Because we depend on God. We believe that God would never flood the Earth again because he promised Noah that. So the Marshall Islands won’t sink.” This is something almost everyone will say if you ask them about climate change on the islands. They all see climate change causing these floods, loss of land, and loss of soil. But they won’t admit to it. It doesn’t seem like a big deal because they all believe that God won’t flood the earth. Climate change is not the issue to them. But as for me, I see it differently, I believe climate change is happening. I do feel scared for my homeland. I do worry everyday about it. I’m not saying I don’t believe in what the bible said about God not flooding the earth. I believe in the bible, I believe in God and his son Jesus Christ.
I believe that God said he would never flood the earth, but he never said anything about mankind destroying the earth themselves. We are destroying the earth – not God.
They don’t blame anyone for climate change affecting home. Because they believe that it is the will of God and God will not let harm come to the Marshall Islands. I personally am not blaming anyone. I think burning fossil fuel has caused the greenhouse effect and caused the rising sea-level, but I am not blaming anyone or pointing fingers. I would like the powerful countries to address this issue and see that climate change is really affecting the Marshall Islands. Do something about it because we are helpless. If the Marshall Islands sink, where will we go?? Where will we go and will you accept us?
I would actually want to raise my son there. I want to him to know who he is and know where his homeland is. I want him to know how to fish, know how to swim, know how to work, eat marshallese food, sail a canoe, and so many other things. But due to the impacts of climate change, I really don’t know if I want to raise him there because who who knows if there will still be a Marshall Islands? But it would have been great to raise him the same way I was raised back home.
If Climate Change worsens, I believe Marshallese will move to the United States. The U.S is not bad, I also love it here, but there is no place like home. It’s different, words can’t really explain the difference and how sad we will be if we have to move from the Marshall Islands. It is our home. Our land, culture, traditions, local food, and beaches would be left there, and it is very heartbreaking. It’s even sad just to think it might happen. We shouldn’t move!!! Why should we leave our home? What did we do so bad to deserve this??
What should Americans do to help this problem? Tell everyone around the world about it. America is the strongest nation in the world. I believe they can find a way to solve this.
UNITED NATIONS: Small island nations, whose very existence is threatened by the rising sea levels brought about by global warming, are seeking to take the issue of climate change before the International Court of Justice.
Johnson Toribiong, president of Palau, said Friday his country and other island nations had formed an expert advisory committee to bring the issue before the U.N. General Assembly. That would allow the world court in the Hague to determine the legal ramifications of climate change under international law.
”If 20 years of climate change negotiations have taught us anything, it’s that every state sees climate change differently. For some, it is mainly an economic issue … for others it’s about geopolitics and their past or future place in the global economy, but for us it’s about survival,” Toribiong said.
”Pacific countries are in the red zone, a swell of ocean where waters have risen two or three times higher than anywhere else in the world. That differential might explain why we speak about climate change so urgently and we look to everyone in every corner of the United Nations to find a solution,” he added.
Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Colombia University and a member the advisory committee, said the idea is to have a court determination compelling developed nations to control emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming in the absence of an international treaty.
Gerrad said that the big emitter nations could then be found liable under the international law principles of transboundary harm, when physical activities in one country impact adversely upon another, and the preservation of statehood _ something that becomes exceedingly difficult if a country is submerged between the rising oceans.
Palau’s announcement comes just months before the United Nations is scheduled to hold a major international environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro, ”Rio plus 20,” referring to the 20 years since the U.N. Earth Summit was held in that tropical city.
Unlike the 1992 Earth Summit that was devoted to climate change the June conference will discuss sustainable development, a change diplomats have said has to do with the difficulty of advancing emissions reductions in today’s political environment.
Dr. Dessima Williams, Grenada’s U.N. ambassador, said the idea of bringing the issue before the world court was to raise the level of international consciousness ahead of the Rio conference.
On a bright, gleaming Saturday morning walk in the small community of Rita, I met Eli and Mary Rose Silk, the Marshallese pastors of the Salvation Army Church. They were somewhat modest and soft-spoken, asking me to take pictures of the children around the church building rather than themselves. But they were generous and open in conversation- freely discussing their weather and water related experiences in the Marshall Islands and their thoughts on the future.
Pastor Silk: The weather is changing here- the tide has changed. Some places, like in Laura [this seemingly pristine, gorgeous point at the far end of Majuro], the tide now reaches the trees. The sand there washes away with the waves, and sometimes yards there flood now. When I was young, it wasn’t like that. It’s different now. The trees are flooded, and now they fall into the sea. The breadfruit are smaller now- nearly half the size they used to be. Some of the places we used to play in when we were young are gone. When we were young, there were occasional typhoons, sometimes people even died in the storms. But now, there is standing water in the streets after it rains, or when the tide swells.
I ask why now? Why the change?
Pastor Silk replies: As a pastor, I know that everything is under “him” [referring to God], and that the end is clearly coming closer, as evidenced by these increasing and intensifying weather events.
I want to delve deeper here, and ask: Do you think the end will come at a different time than, say, California?
To which Pastor Silk replies: Well, we don’t know, because it’s [climate] killed more people than in the Marshall Islands so far. Even though we live on very low land, we don’t see disasters like you have because of weather in California, like fire, earthquakes, or floods that you have elsewhere in your country.
I’m impressed and humbled by his insight here. Yes, of course we have climate-related disaster in our country, but you don’t hear us talking about with his candor very often.
I want to know more about what weather-related disaster looks like in the Marshall Islands. I ask about the King Tide season, from December to February when the seas intensify and the waves grow. Pastor Silk’s wife, Mary Rose Silk, perks up.
Mary Rose: Mothers get nervous, scared even, during this time. Our little children used to run around and play freely, but as the King Tide season comes now, with its storm surges and waves, we grab our kids and get inside. Sometimes they announce these storms on the radio now, and we’re told to evacuate our homes. It’s happened four times already this year. It never used to happen.
I ask if they believe that climate change is real-
Mary Rose, with conviction in her voice: Yes, I believe it’s happening because I’ve seen the changes.
She is emphatic and sincere. Pastor Silk seems more hesitant, like the question I’ve asked is more complicated and multi-faceted than the question I asked his wife.
Pastor Silk: [after a delay]… Yes, I believe it’s happening. But I mostly just depend on God. I try not to worry.
I probe a little on this, because it reminds me of a comment from James Bing III, a a young, thoughtful, smart Marshallese man in his 20s who I recently met with in Washington and who will appear on Drowning Islands soon. Pastor Silk happens to know James Bing III’s family, and so I mention that from James’ perspective, God may have promised that he would never flood the earth, but that he said nothing about what mankind would do. Many scientists believe that climate change is at least exacerbated by human activity, not God
Pastor Silk: Yes, God promises never to flood the earth again. Our island is low and small. But lots of the things going on in the world- we don’t see them here. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados… Why? Because he’s caring for us. But if we don’t believe in him or make him happy… that’s God’s problem and he’ll take care of it.
I ask if they think that Americans, Chinese, or Australians, for starters, should do something different about the way that we live in order to protect small islands.
Pastor Silk almost immediately responds, in a seemingly forgiving and generous way that only God can make this sort of sea-change. But Mary Rose seems troubled. She is quiet for a moment, then asks:
Mary Rose: Do you think that big places, big cities, are the ones that cause this problem?
I quickly confide that I am not a scientist, and that I am not able to crunch numbers and analyze weather patterns the way that those in meteorology and climate sciences can (and do). But, I hasten to add my parting words-
If changing the way that I live, if emitting less carbon and supporting governmental policies that encourage and enforce this sort of action MIGHT help the problem, then I will do it.
To this, they both vigorously nod.
[An important aside- Pastor Silk wants to read this blog, send and receive emails, and allow community children the use of their computer. However, their nearly archaic computer broke several months ago and they are awaiting funds to send it for repair in Honolulu. If you would like to help buy a new computer for this community, leave a comment or send me an email at email@example.com]
Despite the fact that the U.S. is on track to experience one of its worst weather-related-disaster years on record, many in the U.S. do not attribute weather events like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, or fire to climate change, particularly human-induced climate change. But this luxury is not one afforded to the countries that are on the front lines of climate change. While those of us in developed, high-emitting countries sit back and debate whether or not our activities intensify weather-related catastrophe (and the loss and detriment to human life that ensues), there is this lingering what-if question: if our actions and inactions carry the possibility danger and forced human sacrifice, why wait? If acting now might help, what are we waiting for?
For the Marshall Islands in particular, this is not the first time where land and people have acted as an American testing site… a what-if battleground of sorts. On March 1, 1954 alone, when the United States detonated the experimental hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll, it’s strength was 1,000 times the strength of Hiroshima. 1,000 times. The Marshallese that called Bikini their home were sadly relocated to neighboring islands prior to the period of nuclear testing, which started in 1946. They watched as ironically named Bravo’s mushroom cloud soared into the air, and only hours later were covered in a toxic, nuclear mist. In the weeks and months that followed, perfectly innocent islanders experienced a sickening variety of symptoms, including nausea, itching, and vomiting at first, which over the years has led to hair loss, tumors, disfigurement, cancers, and death. In a dizzying and erratic turn of events, over the coming decades, the Marshallese were moved by the US Military back to the nuclear waste-sites that they still think of as their homes and then relocated back to “safer” islands multiple times, on broken promises that their contaminated islands were considered live-able. All in all, the Marshall Islands was home to 66 nuclear bomb detonations.
And for those of us that were not alive during this nuclear experimentation era, and therefore feel like we escape the feelings of guilt that come with inaction… a month ago, nearly 100 chickens and ducks died mysteriously on Kwajalein atoll- an inhabited nuclear contamination site. The United States has ruled out avian flu, but has yet to inform the Marshallese what the cause of sudden death may be. To think that these idyllically beautiful outer islands have somehow been scrubbed clean is to shamefully oversimplify the matter.
Comparing 66 nuclear experiments in a faraway land to our own personal greenhouse gas emissions may seem like a stretch. Maybe it is. But spending time in the Marshall Islands means that you think about these things. Every time I eat this tuna here and (somewhat selfishly) wonder whether it is contaminated or see an individual with physical deformities, I get this sinking feeling that we are doing it again. This time, rather than experimenting with nuclear bombs for the “good of mankind” (which is what the Marshallese were told they were contributing to), we are experimenting with emissions. I am certainly in this category myself- after all, I flew on a commercial airliner to get to this what-if observation deck. From the comfort of our homes, we debate whether our actions mean anything to the rest of the world. Whether our activity or inactivity impacts the world around us. What if? If there is a possibility that our actions impact others in nuclear proportions, is this a legacy worth repeating?
Fred Beren, a Filipino man who has lived with his Marshallese wife in the Marshall Islands for about three decades, does not know what is causing his country’s landscape and climate to change. But he thinks that Americans can do something about it. This belief comes from deep springs of hope; trust; and confidence, rather than a sense of blame or resentment. He understands that something bad is happening to his island home because he lives with the changes every day.
It is hard to imagine a home more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change- Fred’s home sits precariously on a small mound above the Pacific ocean, each wave lapping close to everything he owns. I stumbled upon Fred during a morning walk while taking photographs of the foreboding cemetery near his home. Friendly and sincere, Fred came out of his already ajar front door and seemed eager to connect.
He spoke fondly of a time when the Marshall Islands were “bigger” and more robust. He reminisced of a beach he used to swim at, where coconut trees provided shade (and perhaps a mid-swim break of sustenance). Now, he says this beach is nearly unrecognizable- the coconut trees have relinquished themselves to the shore- toppling under the stress of the advancing salty sea. He knows people who have homes near that particular beach who experience frequent flooding. Since he lives on the tide-side of the island of Majuro, he has noticed the waves increasing in intensity and height, particularly during the winter King Tide season.
When asked why this may be happening, Fred is not quick to blame. He wonders if the ice melting in other parts of the world might be contributing to the rising sea in his backyard. But during our conversation, I never sensed an iota of “agenda” or that he was repeating warnings that were preached to him in any way. Rather, Fred came across as a humble, simple, concerned man who loves his home. When I asked if I could take pictures of his back yard (the Pacific), he was hesitant at first because it had not been cleaned. He was referring to the garbage that washes up on shore, present on every remote island I have ever stepped foot on- inhabited or uninhabited. He loves living in the Marshall Islands because there is “no crime… it is safe here and the people are friendly.” But since he is very close to the ocean, he worries about bigger waves or further sea level rise in the future.
We walk to Fred’s backyard and notice gleeful Marshallese children bodysurfing on a consistent break just to the south of his home. Fred is concerned that I may fall and pays careful attention to my every rocky step as if I am a toddler navigating a stairway for the first time. As I thanked him profusely for his candor, he rushes to top my gratitude, thanking me for flying to his home and taking time to learn his story. I probed a little to find out why he was so appreciative of the opportunity to share his experience. In response- his parting words: “Because you are an American lady, you can do something for the Marshall Islands.”
If my yard flooded consistently, would I still mow it?
This is a question I ask myself often (basically since my fascination and concern for drowning islands began)- and for some reason, it’s usually in the context of lawn-mowing. When thinking about or writing on the subject of drowning islands, I often linger on the psychological and motivational impacts that climate change has on the hardest/soonest hit countries. If you live on an atoll, do you care about things like mowing the lawn (despite increasing floods), repainting the kitchen (even though you’ve heard your house may eventually be underwater), re-tile the floor (why? It’ll just flood the next time a storm comes through…)?
So, imagine my surprise (and delight!) when I first stumbled upon a Marshallese man trimming his lawn. Then another. And another. It appears that the Marshallese take great pride in even the appearance of their property, despite the worsening environmental struggles they face. This characteristic (persevering motivation) actually fits a theme of the Marshallese: we are not leaving. Come hell or high water, we are not abandoning our country. The Marshallese are inexplicably, tangibly, and holistically interconnected with their physical islands. As a people they remain committed to climate-solutions as opposed to throwing in the towel. In fact, a section of the RMI Constitution reads:
“All we have and are today as a people, we have received as a sacred heritage which we pledge ourselves to safeguard and maintain, valuing nothing more dearly than our rightful home on the islands within the traditional boundaries of this archipelago.”
I have an area in my yard that struggles- it’s this prime piece of side-yard real estate for me, but yet it lies lower than everything that surrounds it, so it floods and just generally struggles. My husband and I have tried various things throughout the years to improve it’s state, to no avail. I have thought about throwing in the towel on that particular section on many occasions, but I believe I have found my motivation to keep mowing, so to speak, in the Marshallese.
I have a special place in my heart for vulnerable communities that sit precariously above the water- the atoll nations of the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Kiribati, in particular. But seeing my first atoll-nation grave-sites today made an emotional impression that I will not soon forget.
Today was my first day in Majuro in the Republic of the Marshall Islands- a thin strip of land nestled in between Hawaii and the northern tip of Australia. The country is certainly a contender for the “ground-zero” of climate change impacts, and is what I refer to as a “drowning island.” The land is short in stature, but what it lacks in height, it makes up for in brilliance and intensity it almost all things- color, scorching warmth, delicious tuna, drop-dead-gorgeous and giving individuals, and stunning scenery. This place feels like magic in a palpable way.
The color of the day morphed considerably- when I arrived in the morning, the landscape was muted to a bright white with shaded accents- the sun bleaching faces and storefronts, beaches and clouds. This evening, everything is tinged in varying shades of blue. It was swelteringly hot, but to get my bearings and to see and talk to the Marshallese people, I walked for several hours down the main road that connects furthest tip to furthest tip. The narrow stretch in between barely lifts out of the ocean. I’m not exactly an athlete, but I could throw a stone across the island in a surprising number of locations.
Walking may sound misleadingly easy, so let me set the record straight here. Apparently last night there was a storm that shot seawater higher and further than “normal” (a decreasingly accurate term in climate-vulnerable zones like this one). There was in incredible amount of standing water in the streets and yards, despite the pounding, intense rays of the sun. I basically ended up walking down the middle of the street, which is no easy feat in Majuro where there is a fairly constant stream of vehicle traffic down its busy, main road.
I talked to many people about the water. I even rolled up my sleeves and helped a small army of kids fill up wheelbarrows of soft, almost mustard colored sand to dump into their yards for a make-shift “sponge” effect (this was slow work and it was hard work). The general consensus was that rain and waves have always been part-and-parcel of island living, but that these forces have increased in duration, frequency, and intensity in this past generation. There are no party-lines on that one- elders and teenagers, men and women, business owners and happy-go-lucky alike agree: there is less land and more water in Majuro than there used to be.