In a piece published on Dumbo Feather, Pacific climate change activist Marita Davis wrote intimately and beautifully about the centrality of the ocean to Pacific Islander village life. The ocean is “the giver of life”, which has sustained generations of Islanders with food and abundance. With the advent of climate change, however, this “giver of life” has become a threat to it.
Marita notes that in Kiribati, the water level has risen dramatically in the past 20 years; sea walls have been erected everywhere to stop ocean water flooding their well water supply and homes. Ocean front property may be coveted real estate elsewhere in the world, but in Kiribati today, it means that you may be one of the first to lose your home under a rising sea.
Her experiences in Kiribati, during a long awaited visit to her island homeland, personalised the existential threat of climate change for Marita - it was no longer an abstract idea or collection of statistics and news reports, but a tangible reality endangering her entire family. Some forecasters predict that this chain of atolls is facing complete ocean submersion within the next 50 years.
It was these experiences that eventually inspired her to pen 'Teaote and the Wall' - a beautiful children’s book lovingly published with the help of crowdfunding and featuring bright and engaging illustrations by talented illustrator/graphic designer Stacey Bennett.
'Teaote and the Wall' tells the story of Kiribati woman (inspired by Marita’s mum, Teaote) determined to build a strong wall, tall enough to keep out the gigantic waves that threaten her home. She builds her wall with sticks and stones, rocks and sand. In Marita’s words:
“Teaote and The Wall is about hard work, resilience, positive thinking, working together but most of all it's about the strength of a community. Kiribati life is about relying on one another when the chips are down and pooling your resources to support one another.
Teaote and The Wall is more than an educational environmental book. It is a homage to a country that is full of culture, life and the happiest people on the planet.”
Q&A WITH MARITA DAVIS
Before Christmas, we asked Marita about her thoughts on the Paris UN Climate Talks and what we as Pacific Islanders and citizens of the world can do to help the collective movement for climate action.
The United Nations Conference on Climate Change took place in Paris recently. World leaders and many commentators have hailed the legally binding deal - pledged by almost 200 countries - to hold global temperatures to a maximum rise of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Are you hopeful about the deal?
MARITA: Yes and no. Yes because this is the first time the global community have made a collective decision to do something significant for the environment. We have never before seen such a group of countries agree on reducing the global temperature and that should truly be celebrated.
It sounds a little downcast to say no, but I say this because this deal would have had so much more of an impact if it happened at the Copenhagen talks four years ago rather than this year. So many low-lying nations are already significantly impacted by the rise of sea levels and this is not an easy fix. The urgency to help these nations survive these devastating sea levels shouldn’t be underestimated nor forgotten just because the Paris conference produced a positive result.
Besides the deal, what about COP21 gave you hope for the future?
MARITA: The best thing about this deal is that it allowed large countries to rise to the challenge of doing something about climate change. For large countries to stand up for the issue, including US, it influences a lot of smaller countries – including Australia. It also was a clear message to the Australian Government that they need to play a more active role in moving away from the fossil fuel industry.
What about COP21 concerned you?
MARITA: What has always concerned me about any climate talks is that a lot of countries see these global conferences as a chance to ‘hold off’ making important environmental decisions until they can announce it in front of other countries. With climate change being an urgent issue, countries need to be making constant decisions and policies that have immediate impact on their fossil fuel emissions – not waiting for a conference or other environmental talks to make decisions.
What are 5 things readers of Stella Magazine can do to help the Pacific movement for climate change action?
MARITA: One of the most important things that has really allowed the Pacific to have a voice in the last 2 years has been their presence on social media. Voicing their stories on social media allows the wider global community an opportunity to see how our islands are being affected. So with that, these would be my five things:
1. Share your story on social media sites
2. Take photos to record impacts of climate change
3. Seek advice of Pacific elders and share their thoughts
4. Pay respect to our culture and never underestimate that local, Pacific culture can come up with solutions that western communities haven’t thought of
5. Work collectively as a whole Pacific community to strengthen our voice. We will be stronger as a large Pacific voice rather than a region of tiny voices.
How can people purchase a copy of ‘Teaote and the Wall’?
You can buy copies through our website teaoteandthewall.com. If you’d like to buy wholesale, people are welcome to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Our sincere thanks to Marita Davis, for sharing your insights with us! You can read her writing at http://thelittleislandthatcould.com
WORDS by Pauline Vetuna.
Images 1 - 3: by Amandine Thomas.
Image 4: Sign in Tarawa, Kiribati. Taken by Erin Magee / DFAT. Original here. Creative Commons licence.
Image 5: Household experiencing coastal erosion on South Tarawa. Taken by Government of Kiribati.