If It Were My Island

imageToday, at the UNESCO event, “An Afternoon with Robert Redford: Storytelling For Global Action,” we heard a new perspective on climate change, one that gets much less consideration. Robert Redford spoke clearly about the need for action: “There have been a lot of conferences with a lot of talking. Well, the time has run out for talking. The time to act is now.” The guest panel featured three individuals with wildly different experiences, but the same overall message.

Mundiya is the chief of his tribe. He told us how climate change is already affecting his people – water is getting scarce, “the sun is closer,” and he sees changes in the forest. “It isn’t my forest, it isn’t your forest, it is our forest and we must work to save it.”

MinaMina passionately pleaded for the rights of Indigenous People to be included in the text of the COP21 agreement. To her and the people she represents, a few words in the text of an agreement is a matter of huge gain or tragic loss. She pleaded: “Please, please, please put the rights of Indigenous People back in the agreement.” She spoke with such passion and emotion that you couldn’t help but feel the injustice they are facing.

Kathy shared how the Marshall Islands are “ground zero for climate change.” High tide is causing more and more problems and recently a hospital was flooded. The whole island chain is only one meter above sea level. One small island holds the people displaced from Bikini island during the Cold War. Her anger was infectious as she explained how climate change will leave their homes underwater. Specifically, two degrees Celsius of warming will raise the ocean enough to entirely cover her home. That is why she (as well as 106 other countries attending COP21) is pushing for the stated goal of the Paris agreement to be lowered to 1.5 degrees of warming. Her poetry moved me, as her words paint a clear picture.

This perspective matters a great deal in these Paris climate talks. I can be hopeful all that I want, but the perspective of threatened indigenous people shouldn’t be ignored. Since (almost) everyone agrees that urgent action needs to take place, let’s redouble our efforts and work on behalf of these vulnerable populations. If it were my island, my rights, or my forest, I would want the world to work to right the wrong that so many are facing.

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