There is a lot of shouting about climate change, especially in North America and Europe. This makes the whole world easier to keep quiet — so that westerners think they have nothing more and should stop so-called “experts” talking. But we all need to talk about climate change and amplify the voices of those who suffer the most.
Climate science is important, but given the fact that science and the stories of people experiencing climate change, we can begin to think seriously about technical answers.
This should be done not only at international conventions like COP26, but also on a daily basis. In any power room they choose, there should be people who can speak for themselves about the problem of the weather. Storytelling and intervention in climate change, called upon to use the old skills of human communication through language and news to deal with inaction. It is a method of taking weak words often into powerful chambers.
This is what I tried to do by writing articles for people who are experiencing climate change.
In 2013, I was living in Boston during a marathon bombing. The city was closed, and once it was up, all I wanted was to get out: walk and rest and hear the noise of other people. I needed to connect, to remind myself that not everyone is a killer. Encouraged, I opened a box of broccoli and typed “Open call for news” in Sharpie.
I wore a cardboard box around my neck. Most people just stared. But others approached me. When I started to listen to strangers, I did not want to give up.
That summer, I set out on my bicycle down the Mississippi River to listen to whatever was being said. I brought a sign with me. One issue was so serious that I did not stop thinking about it for months, and it eventually led to my traveling around the world.
“We fight for the safety of our levees. We fight for our swamp whenever we have a hurricane. I never thought I would be anywhere else.”
I met 57-year-old Franny Connetti, 50 miles[80 km]south of New Orleans, as I stood in front of her office looking for air in my tires; he asked me to go out in the evening. Franny shared with me her lunch of fried shrimp. In the middle of the bite he told me how Hurricane Isaac washed away his house and villages in 2012.
Despite the tragedy, she and her husband returned to their homeland, just a few months later, when a hurricane struck.
“We fight for the safety of our levees. We fight for the swamp every time we are hit by a storm,” he told me. I can’t imagine being anywhere.
Some 12 miles[20 km]ahead, I could see the sea crossing the sea because of the big waves. “Water on the Road,” said the orange sign. Locals jokingly refer to the end of Louisiana State Highway 23 as the “End of the World.” Just imagine the road I walk underwater is cold.
Here was the first line of climate change, one story. What does it mean, I wonder, to put this into discussions with stories from other parts of the world – from other front lines that happened in the water? My goal was to listen and develop the stories.
Water is what most people in the world will be like with climate change. It is not a human being, like a degree Celsius. It is something we see and hear. Without water, crops die, fires burn, and people thirst. When in abundance, water becomes a destructive force, destroying homes and businesses and lives. It is often easier to talk about water than to talk about climate change. But the two are very close.
I began to deal with another problem: the language we use when discussing climate change is often incomprehensible and impossible. We hear about rising sea levels or concentrations of one million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but what does this mean for the daily lives of people? I thought that telling a story could solve this difference.
One of the first stops of my trip was Tuvalu, a tropical island nation in the South Pacific, some 355 miles[585 km]south of the equator. At a home of about 10,000 people, Tuvalu is on the verge of losing my life.
In 2014, Tauala Katea, a meteorologist, turned on her computer to show me a picture of a recent flood. The seawater had flooded the area near where we sat. “This is how climate change looks,” he said.
He recalls: “In the year 2000, the people of Tuvalu living on the outer islands were experiencing the effects of taro and pluck crops. “Its roots looked like rotten stalks, and its growth was slow.” Taro and pulaka, two of Tuvalu’s most nutritious foods, are planted in holes dug in the ground.
Tauala and his team traveled to foreign islands to take soil samples. The cause was an infiltration of salt water that was linked to rising sea levels. The seas have been rising at a rate of four inches[4 mm]a year since measurements began in the early 1990’s. While these may seem trivial, these changes have had a profound effect on Tuvaluans’ access to drinking water. The highest point is only 13 meters above sea level.
As a result, much has changed in Tuvalu as a result. Freshwater lenses, which are groundwater that float on the surface of dry seawater, have become salty and defiled. Grass roofs and springs of fresh water are now antiquated. Each house now has a water tank attached to a tin roof and gutters. All the water for washing, cooking, and drinking now comes from the rain. This rainwater is boiled for drinking and used for washing clothes and dishes, as well as for bathing. Wells have been turned into piles of garbage.
In some cases, families must make strong decisions about how to distribute water. Angelina, a mother of three, told me that during a drought several years ago, her pregnant daughter, Siulai, was only a few months old. She, her husband, and their grown daughter could swim in the sea and wash their clothes. “We just kept the water for drinking and cooking,” he says. But the skin of his little boy was so strong that he could not swim in the sea. The salt water can make him very dangerous. This means that Angelina has to choose between drinking water and bathing her baby.