Before Our Eyes: Fiji

Fiji Tree
2014, Fiji: A mature tree has been surrounded by the encroaching sea. It stands defiant but lonely and vulnerable, its roots exposed as the land on which it grew up is carried away by the changing climate. (Image credit: Kadir van Lohuizen, where will we go? – rising sea levels Project, Noor Foundation)

Fiji is an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean comprising 332 islands, of which 106 are permanently inhabited by its population of about 900,000 people. They are the descendants of the Lapita people who settled the islands about 5,000 years ago, probably originating in Taiwan or southern China. Expert in seamanship and navigation, the Lapita people and their Polynesian descendants relied on a strong tradition of oral history and small wooden canoes to locate and ultimately settle the Pacific islands from Fiji to Hawaii across hundreds of miles of open ocean. This amazing feat of human exploration has been recently popularized in the movie, Moana.

Can you imagine the courage, faith, and skill it must have taken to set off from one tiny Pacific island to find another, across a hundred miles of open ocean in a small wooden boat, with only the stories of your parents and the stars as your guide? That’s what these folks did, around 5,000 years ago.

In just 3% of that time, since around 1850, the most industrialized among us have begun a process to rapidly deprive those brave folks of their homes, culture, and history. Their beaches are already vanishing due to climate change driven sea-level rise, as exemplified by the lonely tree pictured above. In fact, as discussed at the recent 23rd annual “conference of the parties” (COP) meeting under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany, a joint assessment of the World Bank and the Fijian government determined that Fiji will need to spend an amount equivalent to its entire yearly gross domestic product over the next 10 years to adequately prepare for higher sea levels and stronger storms due to climate change.

So the simple decision on the table is this.

Option A: Turn our backs on the 900,000 current citizens and the 5,000 year human history of Fiji. Blow off the descendants of the people who conducted their own version of the Space Race, before we did ours, by bravely exploring and settling the uncharted expanses of the South Pacific in tiny wooden boats. Enjoy our cheap fossil energy. Why challenge ourselves to do something new (solar, wind, batteries), even though engineers and economists now say those new things can sometimes be as cheap as fossil fuels? Drill, baby, drill!

Option B: Give those brave folks some respect and give ourselves a little bit of a healthy challenge. Revolutionize our relationship with energy and the earth. Replicate the glory of the last generation’s Space Race in that pursuit. We all just may be prouder, happier, and safer.

(After all, what’s been happening in Fiji is also beginning to happen in Houston and Miami. Or haven’t you heard?)



See more changes happening Before Our Eyes.

Fiji BoyImage credit: Kadir van Lohuizen, where will we go? – rising sea levels Project, Noor Foundation

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.