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Op–ed: Kiribati’s waking nightmare


NEWS
Filed by Lucire staff/November 27, 2015/11.22


November 27, 2015

Rt Hon John Key, MP, Prime Minister
Hon Bill English, MP, Deputy Prime Minister
Parliament Buildings
Wellington
New Zealand

Dear John and Bill,

I’m having a nightmare. I want to tell you guys about it—to tell you to wake me up; shake me if you have to. Scream me awake, and when I am, I want you to tell me it’s not as bad as it seems.
   I’ve landed in Tarawa, Kiribati, where news from New Zealand awaited me that John has declared his faith that climate change can be addressed with technology—scientists have told him the technology isn’t far off.
   At an official dinner, people look at me as though I have some glorious technology news to pass on. I don’t. I went to bed that evening feeling hollow; figures screaming through my head, the voice of that pesky Jim Salinger uttering the most terrifying words I’ve heard in many years: ‘The world has now entered abrupt climate change.’ You know Jim right, the guy with the Nobel Peace Prize? Gosh, I wish he would shut up with all that sense he talks.
   In the same nightmare I wake the next day to be told that 90 per cent of drinking water wells have been contaminated with E. coli, that the crops at vital plantations are no longer growing due to saltwater poisoning the ground. That lagoons which once fed villages have become infested with E. coli, killing a large bounty of marine life. That the ocean-warming and acidification has killed a majority of the coral atoll that forms the very ground I’m stood on. It’s like a really bad apocalypse video game—I’m anxious that zombies are going to duck out from behind the door. I look around at homes whose front doors the ocean now laps, at dead fruit trees once laden with produce killed by the salt seeping into the soil. I’m failing to see what Tony Abbott found so comical about this situation.
   In this nightmare I wonder what kind of technology could possibly solve this. I then remind myself of John’s track record of absolute reliability, and I feel comforted. The law can’t solve this. I mean, even if it could and there were laws to protect these people, there are no lawyers, and they’d be unaffordable for these people if there were. So, technology must be the saving grace.
   I visited the hospital to witness first-hand what an infant mortality rate 10 times that of New Zealand’s looks like. Have you ever seen such a thing? It’s completely shocking; it hit me with a force a hundred times that of any image of a child lying washed up on a shore a world away. I tried to fight back the tears, and the numbing coldness that consumed my body. I tried not to vomit—but later in the privacy of my room I did find solace in a Fiji Airways sick bag. I sat there and waited for the moment I’d be shaken awake. I desperately wanted John to ride in and tell me that the threat of climate migration is many years off and not something to be worried about. I wanted Bill to sit down and tell me that none of it was real, and the sea levels were not rising.
   John, could you go tell that mate of yours Obama to stop being a bloody alarmist; that according to Bill, there’s no proof Alaskan villages are vanishing into the ocean. That entire nations are not facing forced-extinction from the ocean swallowing them alive. You go tell that puffed-up American know-it-all that he’s alarming the masses, causing me nightmares and unwanted anxiety.
   Bill, could you go tell all those apparently credible scientists who’ve won those fancy awards, that 2015 is not the hottest year in history and they’re just plain wrong. Round them up with Malcolm across the ditch (because they give him a hard time as well) and be done with them. Bully them into submission a bit harder. Just shut them up.

Thanks in advance,

Pearl

§

I imagined the response coming back something a little like this.

Dear Pearl,

You are far too much of a pretty wee thing to be travelling to such far-flung and irrelevant places like Kiribati in your nightmares; to spend time worrying about such things. Why don’t you pay heed to the advice I gave Keisha Castle-Hughes: try visiting the salon for a bad blow-dry instead?
   Don’t worry about other people. By the time New Zealand starts feeling the full effect of climate change we’ll have the technology available to deal with it.
   I’ve also got Malcolm under control—he’s going to share Nauru so we’ve got somewhere to put all those helpless fellow human beings in the Pacific fleeing the rising sea-levels and food shortages. The ones who think they’re right to turn to us for help. I’m going to stop the boats.
   Meanwhile, the Kardashians have a new season, vote for the fern, and use our new buzz word: technology.
   In the meantime, here’s a Live Lokai bracelet. Hold on to it, because before long the Dead Sea and Everest will be things for the history books.

Merry Christmas,

John

§

That’s kind of how this piece came about. I thought I’d write a wee letter. The problem is, the more I wrote and decried the blind buying-in of the latest spin to come out of the ninth floor, the more ridiculous it felt, and the more scared I became in turn. If I’m completely honest, the realization that many—possibly even some reading this piece—didn’t know how absurd the spin had become, worried me to the point of physical sickness. Thanks again Fiji Airways, your sick bags are truly first-class.
   I’m writing this from Kiribati. I’m fully awake. I’m awake in a nightmare. I went to the hospital. I waded through water at high-tide to cross the road infested with human fæces to get there before what they call the ‘morgue’ closed. In a bag at the other end of the room was a pile of clothes and a pair of trainers I never want to see again. I was going to turf them out, but a young woman tasked with showing me around asked if she could have them, since for her wading through the stench of death and fæces was an everyday reality.
   Don’t get me wrong, Kiribati is absolutely beautiful and if it weren’t for the damage wreaked by rising sea levels and climate change, I would focus only on its beauty, but the reality is these threats make the situation people face here far from idyllic. It’s a dire situation, it’s a nightmare.
   A real-life nightmare, there is no amount of shaking that can wake me; though shaking I am, believe me. Shaking from incredulity at the sheer scale of the situation. The problem is I’m not the who needs to be screamed awake. That’s right: if you have ever for one moment entertained the illusion that sea-levels are not rising; that climate change is not the single biggest threat facing humanity; that you can carry on shirking the responsibility to aid in the fight for human survival and dignity, you need to be screamed awake. Will the humanity in you please wake up?
   I’m not saying this with any political leaning. I believe that most of our politicians are drastically failing us all. Who knows what will happen if we leave this to them. I mean, half of those reading this may freak out at the thought of the Green Party controlling the economy, but don’t blink an eyelid at them leading on the issue defined as ‘the single greatest threat to mankind’ by every serious world leader. Why is that? How will the economy exist without our planet?
   Climate change is no longer some far-off theory or problem. It is happening right here and widely through our Pacific backyard. Right now. As you read this climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our food and water security, our energy, our infrastructure, our health, our safety. Today. Tomorrow. Some more than others but make no mistake it is happening to all of us. It is the issue. An issue that affects all issues, economic included. Everything is and will be impacted. And it becomes more damning with each passing year.
   This matter is far too important to be surrendered to the political domain. This is about humanity. If you think the devastation wreaked by ISIS is as bad as it gets, then please contemplate Mother Nature.
   If the images of parents putting their children into boats because the water was safer than the land left you reeling, then please consider that in the not-too-distant future this will become a reality for many small island states; that many nations in the Pacific will not survive the two-degree cap that Paris is gearing up to gain commitment for in the coming week. They will have to put their children into boats because the water is safer than the land. We have already signed them up for that, and every moment that each of us stands by maintaining the status quo we sign them up for worse—exponentially.
   They will have to flee their homes, forced to migrate due to the lack of food security. Rising sea-levels, along with drastic weather disturbances will make a boat safer than their homes, and these boats will head for our shores.
   Despite this cold hard reality our leaders head into Paris in support of watering a climate agreement down. There’s talk of steps to make the agreement not legally binding. Not many would agree to a marriage or business deal on such terms, I wonder why we are willing to let them negotiate humankind’s survival on such flippant terms.
   During the explosion of the refugee crisis into mainstream media we witnessed both the most hopeful and depraved responses to others’ suffering. I couldn’t help but wonder about the rationale for stopping the boats, for refusing the asylum and migration of those most in need—those least at fault in the destruction of our ecologies, but who will continue to pay the highest price. What possible excuse will we give to keep them out? Do we convince ourselves they’re all terrorists, rapists and murderers to render them exempt from the right to our sympathies, to human dignity? It’s a sad state of affairs that anyone would have to wonder such a thing.
   Leading into the sustainable development goals, New Zealand took a step towards supporting the Pacific, coming out strong and vocal on Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14), which focuses on the conservation and sustainable use of ocean, sea and marine resources. This focus was well warranted, and an open acknowledgement of our responsibility within the region, and our understanding of how many lives depend on the ocean ecologies. I was proud to stand in the General Assembly and hear John Key announce the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. It was an important step, but we must be clear that it was but one step in the marathon of steps we need to build a better world.
   In the words of Jim Salinger and virtually every other expert of climate science in the world, the world has entered abrupt climate change. We have already reached tipping-points we cannot mitigate. We are already signed up for things that are going to drastically change life as we know it, this is a cold hard fact. The question that remains now is whether we can summon the courage to turn around and fight for survival. Life is already going to change; but whether we tumble over yet more tipping-points points and the scale of the consequences we face from them is up to us. Sometimes we have little option but to wake ourselves up.
   We have a choice. We can surrender that choice to those who hold offices of power, or we can take that choice into our own consideration. Some say the whole endeavour to pull back from this is hopeless. I’m not willing to accept that. I simply refuse to stand by and let life go without a fight.
   John Key used very interesting rhetoric this week. He used the word ‘faith’. He is placing his faith in technology. Instead I am going to place my faith in humankind—the creators of technology. I am going to place my faith in our ability to comprehend the magnitude of what we face, and choose survival. I ask you to join not just myself, but others around the world in doing so. We still have a fighting chance to make things better. They won’t get better unless we take action and inspire others to do the same. No one is without power: everybody has the capacity to take a few steps.
   I’ve written this for those who know how to challenge the status quo intelligently. The doers, the thinkers, the problem-solvers. I’m not asking anyone to climb something or break laws, just that each person reading this ponders for a minute about how they can contribute, what steps they can take.
   So as we lead into the COP21 talks, billed as a defining moment in human history, at a time when recent events have given us ample reason to desert our faith in our own kind, I encourage every single person reading this to ask themselves what they can do to take action. This weekend millions of citizens around the world are exercising their rights, their freedoms, using their voices and taking to the streets to send world leaders an imperative to act and take meaningful action.
   Mark my words: a decade or possibly two from now it won’t be the Rugby World Cup final you remember with pride. What will be etched in your memory is whether you answered humanity’s call for survival, whether you were one of those who actually did something. Sometimes that something is simply the act of showing up to show solidarity with humankind. In Paris where world leaders have gathered there can be no march, because the worst of humanity put on a display that has left millions of innocent people terrorized. So in the coming week I will be keeping my eyes firmly on Paris, I am marching, I am lending my effort to reinforce the very best in humanity, because if there’s one thing the world needs right now, it’s more of the good.
   It’s only so big, it goes around and we are all on it—Earth. I believe it’s worth saving, do you?—Pearl Going


Disruption, excerpt: ‘Tipping Points’ from Disruption on Vimeo


Above Kiribati President Anote Tong with his TED discussion, ‘My country will be underwater soon—unless we work together’. Click above to watch.

Guest contributor Pearl Going is a global communications’ strategist who has worked broadly across entertainment, human rights and environmental issues. Her most recent work includes the Mercy Campaign, Rohingya Slavery and SIDS. She is an avid climber and has climbed five of the seven summits.

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