Refusing to Sink


Imagine watching helplessly as the land you live on disappears from beneath your feet. Imagine having to choose between staying in your home country where your family has lived for generations or fleeing to an unknown land. Though this may seem like an unrealistic scenario, and it’s something we Ohioans will never face, it is the reality for some Pacific Islanders.

As residents of the greater Cincinnati area, we are disconnected from the present effects of global warming. We essentially live in our own comfortable bubble where, if we want to get away from hurricanes and erosion, we can just turn off the TV. This mindset is dangerous.

What most of us don’t know is that rising sea levels can–and probably will–engulf entire island nations within our lifetime. People of those nations are being forced to make the decision between staying on their island and essentially “going down with the ship” or moving away to a foreign country.

One of those countries is Kiribati. Rising sea-levels will erode and overtake its land sometime within this century. That is unless we make big changes fast.

In our own UCBA community, we have an activist, Dr. Mike Roman, who is on the front-lines of the climate-change debate. His passion is the country of Kiribati and its people and culture. I sat down and talked to him about why we should care for this small Polynesian country.

I learned that, in Kiribati, your identity lies within your family and village. There is no singular character: you are simply a part of a larger unit. You live with and for your family and contribute to it as well as your community at large.

You are born in your family’s land, live there, and get buried there. Once your body is returned to the ground, you watch over future generations along with your ancestors. So, it’s not hard to understand why so many people are so reluctant and downright opposed to becoming “climate refugees” and fleeing their country.

No one should have to decide between home and survival, and none of us can know what that feels like. At least not until it happens to us. And the truth is that those of us who live in the Midwest probably will never know the effects of climate change in such a personal and significant way. No Americans that live inland will feel it. But it doesn’t mean we should brush it off. It’s hard to empathize with people and places we aren’t familiar with, but we must. We must feel deeply for the people who may lose everything and whose children will lose everything: land, identity, sovereignty.

And we can’t ignore the fact that the people of Kiribati, who live technologically minimalist lifestyles, do not contribute significantly to pollution and global warming, but most strongly feel the effects of it. Their situation is the opposite of ours; we contribute to the decay of our planet, but we don’t feel the consequences of our consumption. So, not only is Kiribati losing land, its land is being stolen by us, those who are too accustomed to a specific lifestyle.

So, what I’m asking you to do is to put yourself in the shoes of the people of Kiribati. Try to feel everything they’re feeling; and when you start to understand what they’re going through, spread the word. Research Kiribati and inform those around you about it. Get other people to care. And then find out what actions you can take to make a change. Remember that no action is too small, and even a single conversation can make a difference.

About Luisa Colapietro

Luisa Colapietro

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