Living with climate crisis

In categories:  Published by:  Gladys Habu

Ask any islander how climate change is affecting them, and they will share with you the immense struggle they continue to experience EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I was born in a little town in Papua New Guinea and raised in a tiny island nation called the Solomon Islands, both of which are located in the beautiful Pacific Ocean. In our part of the world, the impacts of climate change are like a reality TV show that people around the world get to hear about or see, but never really understood. The loss and damage from climate change are not only real, but are also worsening as years go by for us coastal dwellers.

My father comes from Kia village, a community that mostly resides in homes built on stilts above the sea and located in northwest Isabel province, Solomon Islands. My siblings and I grew up in a bay a few minutes off the main village and lived a similar lifestyle in our home that was also built on stilts. Our upbringing involved having to relocate from our old house, rebuilding our kitchen, planting new mangroves, or building stone walls along our shore to protect what was left of our beachfront. All due to the constantly rising sea level in combination with the very unpredictable and harsh climate conditions we go through.

December 2005. My little brother is in front of our kitchen that has been damaged by the rising sea.

I witnessed the impact of climate change.

At a very young age, I started researching global warming and climate change because as I became more curious to find out what was causing all these hardships. I remember the first time I noticed the most visible impact of climate change. It was 2009 and I was 14 at the time. My family and I were approaching our beloved Kale Island in our little boat – an island that holds so much of our cultural heritage – and it is slowly disappearing before my eyes. As I stood up to take a photo, I couldn’t help but wonder about what had happened to the abundant life that once thrived so well. The island was threatened and little did I know, that only 5 years later it would be completely engulfed by the sea.

Only a few decades ago my grandparents’ family lived there – had a big family home & a garden where they cultivated root crops.

Kale, once an island with a beautiful white sandy beach, lush forests, and crystal clear waters home to so much life and culture, now trapped beneath the turquoise ocean surface since 2014.

Kale Island 2009 versus 2014 when it's completely engulfed by the sea level rise

Kale Island 2009 versus 2014 when it’s completely engulfed by the sea level rise

In 2018, I began to vocalize my concerns more openly using my social media channel. I responded to non-believers of a University of Queensland scientists’ 2016 article. The article produced scientific evidence on the loss of 5 islands in Solomon’s archipelago, one of which was Kale. It was hurtful to see so many people in denial and given my photographic evidence,

I knew I had to speak up.

Dr. Simon Albert, the article’s co-author, contacted me. My story got featured on regional & international media. This included:

  • 60 Minutes (Channel 9) Australia,
  • ITV News London (2019),
  • and a soon-to-be-released climate change documentary by the BBC with Ade Adepitan.

Through Dr. Simon Albert and the University of Queensland, I became a panelist at a Human Rights and Climate Change conference. The session was: ‘Community-led Climate Change Responses’.

Here in the Solomon Islands and the greater Pacific, climate change impacts us in many different ways. Our coral reefs are bleaching and our mangrove ecosystems are slowly dying. These are home to our food: mud crabs, clams, and fish. Furthermore, according to scientists, the sea level here rises at almost 3 times the global average. Homes get damaged often and people have to relocate but it is not easy to just leave when there is limited land. Social conflicts through land disputes also occur as a result of resettlement.

Despite how challenging it is for us, it gives me the strength to know that we are fighters. We are doing all that we can to adapt and mitigate, but sadly these all have its limits. Our nation contributes very little to the acceleration of global warming, climate change, and sea-level rise. We need you all to help us in this fight to slow down this harmful process.

Dying mangrove ecosystem now barren, a photo I took in back in December 2011.

This year, I continued my climate action.

My recent achievements include:

  • winning the Miss Solomon Islands 2019/2020 title, placing 1st runner up at Miss Pacific Islands Pageant 2019,
  • becoming a UNICEF Pacific Supporter,
  • and more recently an event coordinator for Mock COP 26.

As a Mock COP 26 event coordinator, I am glad I’m with an amazing group of passionate young people taking real climate action today. It is very encouraging to be with so much positivity while working together despite the Covid 19 pandemic. Of over 800 delegate applications from about 149 countries in the world, we have selected 370 delegates. They will be part of the 2-week virtual conference that would happen from November 19 – December 1.

Mock COP 26 is fast approaching! We are gearing to find what us youth has to say about the climate emergency. Time is running out, and we have to act now.

You can see climate urgency from these photos I took a few weeks ago. We were visiting Lilisiana Village, in Malaita province. This visit was for stunting reduction advocacy as part of the ‘First 1000 days of life campaign’ with UNICEF.

Left: October 18th, 2020 2PM, arriving at Lilisiana village for community awareness on Stunting. Right: October 18th, 2020 4PM – our vehicle can no longer drive through as the sea level rises.

Can you imagine how different this could be in the next 10 years?

Blog by Gladys Habu, Mock COP 26 Event Coordinator (Oceania). All photos are my own.