By: Celine Thormann
When people think about the worst-case scenario of climate change, they think of massive floods, loss of land, other natural disasters, disease and loss of life. For most people, it seems like a far-off scenario, but there are people for whom that worst-case scenario is the day-to-day reality.
Welcome to the nation of Kiribati (pronounced KIR-E-BAS) is a tiny island in the Pacific ocean. There are only around 100,000 inhabitants of the island. The nation is made up of 33 coral atolls, only 23 of which have residents. The average height above water level for the nation is about six feet. Scientists have stated that unless things change immediately, the nation will cease to exist within 50 years. That will mean at least 100,000 people out of a home, forced off of ancestral lands and left as environmental refugees. They are not the first people in this situation, and they will not be the last.
In anticipation of their island literally sinking, the former president of Kiribati, Anote Kong, purchased 6,000 acres of land in Fiji as a place for the i-Kiribati (i-Kiribati is the name for the people of Kiribati) to go once their land is not longer an option. However, many of my i-Kiribati do not want to leave their island. Their island is their home and their cultural identity. Many older residents of the islands believe that since God promised never to flood the Earth again, their island will not sink. This has slowed the response from the i-Kiribati to take action to try and save their island.
So what exactly does this have to do with you here at Miami University? It could be a lot. Mike Roman, a Miami alum and an adopted son of Kiribati, has been working to spread the word about the plight of Kiribati since he fell in love with the island during his tour of duty with the Peace Corps. Now an employee of the University of Cincinnati, Roman travels the world,gives talks about Kiribati and runs the Facebook and Instagram page Humans of Kiribati, where he shares individual stories about the i-Kiribati. According to him, the most important thing to do is pay attention to the world around you.
Even though the situation of Kiribati is still dire, Roman is more optimistic than he was when he first began spreading the word about climate change. Now, at least, people are willing to talk about what is happening to the often forgotten corners of the world. The people on islands like Kiribati will be the first victims of climate change, even though they themselves probably have some of the lowest carbon footprints in the world. His goal is to spread awareness to the people who are the largest contributors to climate change, and every additional person who knows the story of Kiribati is one more person who can maybe help.
Miami University recently put on a Global Health Case Competition that was focused on Kiribati. 15 teams of Miami students from all schools and years did research on the island and were able to propose possible solutions to health problems on the island. Projects like these are awesome ways to get involved and get informed about environmental and health issues in the world today. If you missed the competition this year, don’t worry. Miami does a similar competition every year.
Besides events like the Global Health Case Competition, there are other ways to get involved and stay informed. Read the Humans of Kiribati stories, follow what governments are doing in regards to the environment and above all, show basic human compassion to the people who are on the frontlines of climate change.