Climate change the nuclear age of the Pacific

By Gia Garrick

THE people of the Pacific talk about climate change like New Zealanders talk about nuclear warfare.

It’s the most frightening and uncontrollable threat to their existence and a very real factor in their everyday lives. In just one day in Samoa, the concern carried by its people was obvious.

Standing on a mangrove walkway near Vailima, about 4km south of the country’s capital, one man frowns deeply as he points out nearby homes. At high tide the water is level with them, he tells me. When he was young, it barely came within 5m of the house.

The walkway itself is no longer walkable, seeming to plough below the water’s surface some way along. It was built not all that long ago, and is now underwater most of the day. “A shame,” another says. But it’s not said with surprise.

At a meeting with the Samoan Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern promises $3 million (US$2.1 million) more in aid. At a luncheon the Climate Change Minister James Shaw promises New Zealand will do everything it can to help the country brace for, and slow down, devastating climate changes. He says we can’t do it alone; we need the world on board.

Nobody knows that more than those seated at the tables around him.

They’re literally at risk of being refugees, but not because their country is fighting a war, is completely without resource to survive, or is threatened by human power. But because of where they are located. The actions of the rest of the world in continuing to burn fossil fuels, in releasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere and in denying the existence of man-made climate change are making this situation worse and worse.

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said during the campaign that climate change is her generation’s nuclear-free movement.

If she’s truly going to stand by her words, she must smell the emissions on deniers’ breath and truly change the way New Zealanders view this issue. She must stand by her statements in the Pacific this week.

It took three decades for nuclear activism to turn into the piece of legislation that saw us become world leaders on the topic. And the climate movement began around 1990, nearly three decades ago. For our Pacific neighbours, we must become world leaders on this issue too.

A lot is riding on Minister Shaw’s Zero Carbon Act.

It’s time we looked outside our own backyard and into our neighbour’s, and realised there are changes we can make right now to help them out.

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