If you’re a pessimist, the issue of climate change often carries a sense of hopelessness and generates a fear of existence. If you are an optimist, it carries a desperate urgency and a genuine desire to help.
A fight or flight battle against nature is an overwhelming dilemma for any civilisation. For Kirabati this threat is truly existential.
According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a one-metre sea-level rise could inundate two-thirds of Kiribati by the end of the century. A report by the World Bank predicts by 2050 the potential impacts of climate change on coastal areas and water resources could be upwards of $US16 million a year.
But when all is said and done, the tranquillity and contentedness of the local people of Kiribati is what most of a restless world craves. The idyllic turquoise lagoon, deep ocean and white sandy beaches the people of Kiribati enjoy every day are a complete escape from the smog and concrete jungles we are rapidly adapting to as a civilisation.
Kirabati is not the only country with white sandy beaches but it may be one of a much fewer number of destinations that attracts a brand of tourists who accept imperfect remote destinations, who are not judgemental, and have open minds with no ‘branding’ expectations, and do genuinely want to inform themselves of the plight of vulnerable communities that may or may not exist for much longer.
As an expat living in Kiribati for the past three years, it is clear to me the sea is part of the people of Kiribati. It is who they are; it is in their DNA; it is part of their very being - their culture, their identity. It is a source of life, food and wealth. It is said that Kiribati people lost at sea can survive for months.
But another sobering reality in Kiribati is that while climate change is important, there are fundamental human needs that are more pressing right now, like access to clean drinking water, better living standards, proper sanitation and employment opportunities for youths.