Int'l - The Complicated Truth of Climate Change in the Marshall Islands
Not all islands are sinking. We can fight global warming while acknowledging the wonder of the natural world.
In 2011, as an anxious Republican from Utah, I fly with my husband and nine-month-old son to Majuro Atoll, the capital of the Marshall Islands. We fly D.C. to L.A., L.A. to Honolulu, then Honolulu southwest for 2,300 miles to Majuro. I don’t blink at the carbon footprint of my flights, not yet. I’m just grateful the baby sleeps, log-like, on a questionably hygienic hearth of two airline tray tables. I’m worried about the unknowns ahead, disasters to foresee and forestall: feral dogs, garbage pollution, disease, food insecurity, droughts, floods, typhoons, leftover nuclear radiation, and, of course, sharks. I don’t consider these potential issues in terms of their likelihood, scope, or scale. My mind races.
My new home appears below: a tree-green, beach-beige strip of land shaped like the outline of a woman’s lips, with the town of Laura at the west end and the capital, Delap-Uliga-Djarrit, at the east end. The Laura side of the atoll twists up like a wry smile.
Laura has the highest natural elevation on Majuro, 10 feet above sea level. When the moon hovers above spring tides each February, the king-tide waves will reach over the rocks, enter houses, snatch belongings and garbage and children, and poison freshwater wells, called lenses, with salt water. The Marshallese, for thousands of years, have dealt with these cyclical elements—in addition to the materials they consume—in a way most Americans never do. There’s no place on an atoll where you can disconnect from the weather. Or yourself.
We live somewhere along the curve of Majuro’s smile, in Rairok. In our blue house, on pillars over the lagoon, I take care of the baby and teach him how to count. There is plenty of time to think, as evidenced by the fact that the baby starts counting into the thousands with secondhand foam letters. This is slow time, kairos time, a Greek word meaning the moment when a new state comes into being.
As the tide ebbs and flows underneath the house, my viewpoints erode, shift, resettle, grow, break, and grow again. Some of these shifts are forced by necessity; others I choose to change because, without TV or a smart phone, I finally slow down enough to see where I can improve.