A letter from the front-line of climate change, from your friend kicking about in our regional backyard and neighborhood, Fiji in the Pacific.
Update about the situation and the work at PaCE-SD (Pacific Centre for the Environment and Sustainable Development, University of the South Pacific).
Wow, the impact of climate change is real. Over the past week I have been given a substantial report to edit about the impact of a project funded by the EU into assessing and preparing communities to face adaptation challenges because of rising sea levels and changing weather conditions. I have been impressed by continuing focus on the application of research and sharing of traditional and new knowledge. Academics here at USP are at the front line helping communities to sure up water and food supplies, often under threat because of environmental issues.
The house below harnesses traditional knowledge in construction and materials; the roof lifts off and can be used during cyclones to house multiple families with stronger wind resistance because of being closer to the ground.
While I won’t write in detail about the various metrics and measurements used; but for me, it’s the fact that these are small communities of 20 to 60 households, extended families and villages or just hundreds of people with their own cultures and traditional livelihoods. The way communities and individuals share and learn demonstrates extraordinary resilience and realness in the face of increasing threats to their subsistence.
Highlights from last week wonderful group presentation of researchers who were wrapping up an extensive project. The subjects ranged from how to incorporate ‘traditional knowledge’ about community with science and/or technological assistance to the impacts of self-determined aid from up to a couple of years ago. A great case study about knowledge transferal from a sea-faring husband to his farmer wife about pig rearing, and, another about a whole community thriving from the ‘gift’ of ducklings in an area with frequent flooding stick out in my mind. While it was heartening to see 80% of communities in one outreach using it as an opportunity to secure clean running water, I wondered how many other communities are still struggling with this basic human need.
I’m working with a super talented professional in the field of communication and mother of an almost 1 year old daughter (Sarika pictured above right, with Kate my colleague from RMIT), who has made me very welcome to the team. It seems to me that Climate Change Communications in Fiji are pretty much the Comms challenges of everywhere, which is not to diminish them but as a point of comparison: How do you overcome doubters and detractors in the public media sphere; how do you explain to the researchers and academics that the subtleties of their work are pretty much lost on the media; how do you get traction on every front to keep growing your field of influence? Chris, in the office is a real lad and a hoot to work with also.
Lomborg, Medvedev, Hanlon, Shermer, Easterbrook, and Ostro* need only have spent as much time as I have in Fiji to be convinced that regardless of your opinion about how this is happening (nature or nurture), Climate Change is bringing about unique challenges and major threats in our lifetime. The whole field of Risk Reduction is really interesting and appears to be a major focus of work in the region. A number of colleagues have gone to the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction conference in Cancun, Mexico. So expect to hear something about this in media over the next week (I hope!).
Over the next couple of weeks I am due to visit a sustainability and business conference, and, a special ‘listen to the youth’ session put on by Fiji Gov. some serious engagement. Interesting times ahead. There are plenty of good connections here but there’s not a huge Aussie presence that I’m feeling. Perhaps a reflection of some rocky politics over the past few years. It’s an area of potential growth I feel. I am searching for some art music from the area as so far there’s been considerable local talent in the popular arts but I would love to some a more substantial experience with traditional Pacific music.
Still, it’s a bit confronting to have Tsunami evacuation practice both at USP and at the ANZ stadium. That ‘stuff’ is real bro!
*Six Climate Change doubters who changed their minds.
The Solomon Islands announced last week the establishment of its first protected marine reserve, the Arnavon Islands where the endangered hawksbill turtle (pictured below). Despite the Solomons not having huge resources to police the area it is heartening to see an investment in eco-tourism and in the life of the marine environment. No doubt it will also bring some security to the subsistence marine farming communities in the region. It was great to hear from local academics that some of research from PaCE-SD had informed this decision.
Sitting down to watch a Bollywood movie at the local flicks ($7Fiji dollars!!!!) I was delighted by a diversity and inclusion video advertisement for IDAHOT from the office of the Human Rights Commissioner. This was really heartening and there was not a single snicker or episode of muffled laughter from the audience during the two times I’ve seen the advertisment (yes, I did see that awful Guy Ritchies mutilation of the legend of King Arthur. Why?? Why????). It was really affirming with the tagline “Love us. Love makes a family.” Superintendent of the Wesley Division of the Methodist Church Dr Jeremaia Waqainabete made a public statement supporting LGBTI folks in the local press.
For those keen to know about my personal journey, it’s been a great ride so far and I thank you for your help and support in getting me here. On Sunday I was welcome into the home and life of uber-academic and Fiji’s St.Teresa of Cats, Dr Helene at her home in Rifle Range, a lovely suburb near the sea in Suva (below).
Dr Helene is in Mexico for the international conference on disaster risk reduction, so I’m minding four cats, all strays or abandoned cats from the local Society for the Protection of Animals. Had an outing on Friday evening with fellow RMIT intern Kate and PaCE-SD ‘boss’ Sarika to the Chiefs vs Barbarians sevens football game at the ANZ Stadium along with 20,000 other sporty fans, which included music from the Fiji Military Band .
Donned a traditional Sulu to attend the beautiful Scared Heart Cathedral for Sunday morning mass and some wonderful island singing today, before the local Roc Market and a naughty G&T at the Pacific Grand Hotel this afternoon.
Was so excited this week that Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty (who’s book The Knowledge Wars so entertained me on the journey here) invited me to coffee when I’m back to talk about climate change in the region and I have had several messages on Linkedin from various individuals I don’t know but who have been keeping tabs of my work and movements via Linkedin also wanting to meet up when I get back.
Finally, two cute pics attached to end. One of the kitten I am nursing while Dr Helene is away “Little Baby” asleep and one of a card I bought, made to raise money for the deaf community in Fiji for a special someone on my list who should know who they are (Grannie). How could I forget, I have re-discovered Kapiti Icecream from the area I grew up and Goodie Goodie Gum Drops ice-cream. Warning: I will return rotund! Anyway, onto RMIT uni work… before the working week starts up again tomorrow.
With the smell of the open sea on the breeze.
Daniel, 23 May 2017