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  • Writer's pictureMichael Roman

A Personal Conclusion

Over 25 years have elapsed since my initial arrival in Kiribati, bearing witness to a nation shaped by a tapestry of social, political, and environmental shifts. Amidst this backdrop, the specter of climate change looms ever larger, captivating fleeting attention spans of global leaders. 


While the global community is beginning to pivot towards proactive measures to mitigate climate impacts, Kiribati finds itself at a crossroads where such efforts may already be too late. The urgency of saving polar bears and penguins from glacial melt now competes with the muted cries for help emanating from vulnerable human populations. Tragically, those with little political or financial sway often find their pleas drowned out amidst the clamor of more influential voices.


Kiribati stands squarely on the frontlines of climate change, its future hanging in a precarious balance. As its government grapples with the uncertainties ahead, the fate of this island nation remains uncertain, caught in the relentless grip of a changing world.


Peace Corps journal entry: November 10, 2000


It’s so pretty here but scary too.  I heard about global warming, and I wonder if it’s true because being here sure makes it real.  But I guess I trust the US Government. They wouldn’t send us here if they thought it was a threat. I asked Mikaio what he thought about Global Warming.  He assured me it was nothing serious.  You know, Mike, he said, they said Kiribati would go under the ocean in the 1980s, and look, we are still here, so don’t worry.


Back then, many had only heard whispers of global warming, yet lacked a deeper understanding of its implications. Mikaio, like others, took solace in the reassurance of divine promise, believing fervently that God would never flood the Earth again. Such deeply ingrained Christian beliefs continue to hold sway over the islands to this day.


However, as each prolonged drought parches the land, each king tide encroaches further inland, each crumbled sea wall exposes vulnerability, and each relocated village bears witness to upheaval, religious convictions find themselves confronted by the stark reality of observable changes. In the face of such undeniable shifts, the faith that once provided solace must now grapple with the complexities of a changing world.


Life hinges upon access to fresh water and the sustenance of healthy environments. In Kiribati, however, these fundamental necessities are under threat as the landscape undergoes profound changes. The encroaching sea threatens to contaminate freshwater sources, while the island's population steadily expands.


These observable ecological shifts serve as a direct challenge to Kiribati's longstanding reliance on the assurance of God's covenant as a shield against climate change. As the very fabric of the land transforms before their eyes, residents are confronted with the harsh reality that even divine promises may not suffice in the face of environmental upheaval.


Kiribati stands as a poignant symbol—a canary in the coal mine—warning the world of the urgent need to address climate change. Its plight serves as a stark reminder that the consequences of inaction extend far beyond its shores, demanding global attention and concerted action to safeguard the future of our planet. President Tong succinctly summed up this argument when he stated: 


We may be gone first, but someone will go next. This makes global warming the single biggest moral test to humanity today (KInterview.8.3, 2008).


After more than two decades of growing apprehension, many in Kiribati now harbor a fervent hope: that larger developed nations will depart from their 'business as usual' approach, characterized by unsustainable production and consumption practices.


The urgency of the situation in Kiribati, underscored by the escalating threats posed by climate change, has fueled a collective desire for substantive change on a global scale. It is no longer sufficient to merely acknowledge the risks; action must be taken to address the root causes driving environmental degradation and climate instability.


Kiribati's call for a shift away from business as usual is a plea for solidarity and responsibility from the international community. It is a recognition that the consequences of inaction will be felt far beyond the shores of this small island nation—a sobering reminder of the interconnectedness of our world and the shared responsibility we bear for its preservation.


***

Living with a small family in a quaint village nestled on an island amidst the vast expanse of the world's largest ocean, I often find myself returning to Kiribati to reconnect with loved ones. Each visit brings with it a poignant realization of the growing number of family members and friends who have bid farewell to our island home for diverse reasons.


Many have embarked on journeys of permanent migration to destinations like New Zealand, either through programs like the PAC or by securing employment on cargo ships for extended periods. When I returned in 2008 to conduct research, I was struck by the absence of three of my host relatives, two of whom had resettled in New Zealand, while the third was toiling away on a cargo vessel. Since then, the contours of my small family unit have expanded dramatically, transcending the physical boundaries that once separated villages, islands, and nations.


Driven by aspirations for better opportunities, members of my family have traversed continents, spanning Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific. Some have established permanent residences in foreign lands, paving the way for the eventual migration of other family members seeking similar prospects. Through these journeys, our family tapestry has evolved, weaving together threads of resilience, ambition, and the pursuit of a brighter future beyond the confines of our island home.


The spirit of exploration and migration has long been ingrained in the identity of the I-Kiribati people, symbolizing their resilience and adaptability in the face of changing tides. In today's world, these voyages to new lands serve as harbingers of what may await millions of others living in coastal regions vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.


Just as my initial voyage to Kiribati profoundly altered the course of my life, modern-day migrations have reshaped the destinies of countless individuals, forging new paths and opportunities in distant lands. As an 'adopted' I-Kiribati son, I take immense pride in being part of this resilient community, bound by shared experiences and aspirations for a better future.


Together, we navigate the uncharted waters of an uncertain world, drawing strength from our collective heritage and determination to chart a course towards a brighter tomorrow, wherever that journey may lead us.


Migration makes you a different person.  Maybe stronger?  Or less dependent?  You name it. It does it to you.  When people migrate, they have to adjust to their new setting.  They have to adjust to the culture, the food, the weather, the language, everything. They have to adjust to it all.  If people are coming here, I would advise them not to give up because they will have many problems when they first come, but it gets better as time passes.  Here, it’s hard, so big, and life is so fast, it’s very different.  But, if they want to come, we will help them … but it will still be challenging (Uinterview.9.5., 2009).


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