Former Brighter Green intern Whitney Hoot is chronicling her experiences as a supervisor in a climate change adaptation program in Pohnpei, Micronesia, a small island developing nation at risk from rising sea levels and other effects of global warming. This is the first blog in a three-blog series.
Most Micronesians do not have a firm understanding of climate change and its potential impacts on their lives’this could probably also be said for most Americans’however it seems especially consequential that islanders lack this knowledge, as the effects of climate change are likely to drastically alter the traditional ways of life in this region. In Pohnpei (in the Federated States of Micronesia), we have four seasons – “reken leng” (the season of the trees, when we eat breadfruit); “reken pwel” (the season of the ground, when we eat yams); “reken sed” (the season of the sea, when we eat fish); and “reken isol” (when there is nothing, so we survive on bananas and whatever else the earth provides).
However, indigenous leaders and village elders posit that the seasons have changed in the past twenty years or so, that they are no longer predictable or reliable. This is one of the most interesting things I learned over the last week, when representatives of the Pohnpei State and FSM national governments, NGO staff members, climate scientists, traditional leaders, and educators participated in the Climate Change Adaptation Outreach and Planning Training, hosted by Micronesia Conservation Trust (MCT) and the Pacific Islands Marine Protected Areas Community (PIMPAC).
I represented the International Organization for Migration (IOM), where I am now working as the supervisor for the Climate Adaptation and Disaster Risk Education (CADRE) Pilot Program.
We spent the first two days of the training practicing our outreach and awareness-raising abilities, enhancing our knowledge of climate change so that we might better communicate it to others. We used MCT’s “Adapting to a Changing Climate” Toolkit, a large, high-quality flip chart that includes images (hand drawn by a Fijian artist) showing the contrast between healthy Micronesian communities and unhealthy (or threatened – we debated over the most appropriate terminology) communities.
The most important message to take from this toolkit is that a community with intact social and natural resources’such as strong leadership, waste management, healthy mangroves, and abundant sources of food’will be more resilient in the face of climate change. As Pacific Islanders, we can’t stop climate change, but we can prepare ourselves by ensuring that we understand what may happen and how to limit the impacts.
The expected results of climate change in this region include increasing ocean acidification (which weakens coral reefs), rising sea surface and air temperatures, sea level rise, and changing weather patterns, including a change in frequency of major climate events, such as typhoons and droughts. Understanding these concepts is hard enough, but the real challenge emerges when explaining them to a local community – how can we make global climate change seem applicable on a microscale?
Luckily, the traditional leaders present at the training were extremely helpful. I learned about the seasons on Pohnpei and how important they are to the people here. Explaining how climate change may affect these seasons will be far more effective than showering local communities with scientific jargon and technical graphs.
Photo courtesy of Whitney Hoot