Global warming: responding to calls from the Pacific

Issue 

The Pacific Calling Partnership (PCP) is a response to the calls of people on low-lying islands in the Pacific about the ravages of climate change — more storm surges, longer droughts, tides rising higher, shores eroding, coral reefs bleaching, water supplies and soils becoming contaminated by salt water, breadfruit and banana trees dying and taro pits being destroyed.

In 2004, Linda Uan and John Anderson of Kiribati Video filmed Kiribati and Global Warming a Message for the World. This short DVD, with its images of what is happening to real people, leaves the viewer in no doubt about the difficulties our neighbours are facing. A report issued by the Pacific Council of Churches that year claimed, "This is not an act of God. It is a result of human, economic and consumer activities. Most of these polluting emissions come from highly industrialised countries."

In March 2006, 34 village leaders attended an environmental workshop on the tiny Kiribati island of North Tarawa, organised in partnership with the Edmund Rice Centre (ERC) in Sydney. They watched Kiribati and Global Warming. The film moved them deeply and left them feeling very sad. Dividing into four groups they talked about and wrote four strongly worded messages on butcher's paper to send to the Australian people and government. They wondered if there would be a response.

Two months later, the ERC called a meeting of organisations with links with Kiribati. The meeting initiated the PCP and began to plan a coordinated and vigorous response.

Delegates took the messages to meetings with politicians. People took on the tasks of research, publications, letter writing and attending festivals. Invitations began coming in to make presentations, conduct workshops and staff development days — important for educating people, but also to help to fund the campaign.

During 2007 we developed a Pacific Calling section of the ERC web site, began creating quality resources and, responding to demand, found money to commission the production of a primary school version of the DVD.

Members organised "Calling Out", a celebration of Island culture, as part of the Marrickville Cultural Festival. The event featured performances from the world-renowned TE VAKA, Indigenous vocal group Freshwater, songwriters from the upcoming Pacific Calling CD and local Pacific Island performance groups. The event helped involve in PCP more locally based Pacific and Torres Strait Island community members who wish to respond to the calls from their homelands.

During 2007, the Good Samaritan Sisters became very active in the partnership. Sister Geraldine Kearney, having previously spent four years working in Kiribati, led a delegation of nine people, including two representatives from the Torres Strait Islands, to visit Kiribati in October. This visit served as the key consultation in preparation for participation at the UN Framework Convention in Bali in December.

The PCP delegation at Bali, consisting of people from Torres Strait, mainland Australia, the Carteret Islands and Kiribati, took the messages to world leaders and leading environmental campaigners. The media response was amazing and the December 4 PCP presentation, "Kiribati, Carterets, and Torres Strait Call Out", was standing room only.

In 2008 we launched a musical CD, Turn Down the Heat. Louise Robards and Mark Raue, known throughout Australia for their original music promoting social justice, harnessed the talents and goodwill of activist songwriters to produce the CD. The album features 18 original tracks aimed at raising awareness of the effects of climate change, especially on the vulnerable people living in low-lying islands of the Pacific and Torres Strait. The CD and the Pacific Calling Resource Book are suitable for schools or community groups who want to feel inspired, challenged and entertained by quality, thought-provoking contemporary music.

The PCP, which now includes members of several religious orders who have worked in the Pacific, returned AusAid volunteers, people from the Pacific Islands and Torres Strait Islands (some living in Kiribati and some in Australia) and other interested individuals, especially teachers, provides opportunities for people in Australia to act in solidarity and partnership with our neighbours. During 2008 we plan to deepen our links with the Pacific and develop more stirring ways to tell the story and deepen our understanding of the relationship between human rights and climate change.

New members are welcome to join us and help engage with the broader community through activities such as conducting workshops, seminars, teacher in-services and community events, selling resources, training facilitators of learning circles and seeking ways to deepen our Pacific links. For more information and to order PCP resources, visit http://www.erc.org.au/pcp or email jillf@erc.org.au.

[Jill Finnane is the Eco-justice Program Coordinator at the Edmund Rice Centre.]

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