The film Anote’s Ark concerns the island nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) and how its survival is threatened by rising sea levels. The island has already lost two villages to unexpected storms. Their climate is changing and the weather is becoming more extreme with storm surges that defeat their coastal barriers. Anote Tong, the country’s (now ex-) president is in a desperate race to protect his people and their culture. He tries to convince more industrially developed nations, the United Nations and the Vatican to help Kiribati, because as he tells them, they have created the conditions that are leading to rising sea levels. He is not successful, however. Apart from the purchase of land in Fiji that will provide a refuge for his people when the worst happens, he has no success, even with vast underpopulated countries like Australia.
Alongside his efforts, we follow a young Kiribati family who are leaving Kiribati and immigrating to New Zealand, in order to find a secure future for their children. Their nostalgia for Kiribati and their way of life is palpable and heart-breaking.
We are left with the realisation that even if the people of Kiribati find a safe haven, their 4,000 year-old culture will be gone. To survive, they will have to become something else.
Following the film we had a discussion, led by three panel members who were able to introduce different perspectives for consideration. We had:
- Anna Moss who has researched the impact of climate change for nearly 20 years, from the impact on soil invertebrates to the impact on global economies. She is particularly motivated by ensuring her research effects real change and this resulted in her working with the Scottish Government to develop their climate adaptation policy. She now works with the international finance sector to help drive a speedy and just transition to a low carbon future.
- Richard Tough who was born and raised in Tayport, with a long career with Scott and Fyfe, now owned by its employees. He has taken on a role as community leader and is chairperson of Tayport Community Trust. He is also an enthusiastic and committed volunteer with the RSPB and has a wide knowledge of the Tentsmuir area and its fauna.
- Zoe Kennovin who is a 6th year student at Madras College in St Andrews and a climate activist. She is studying Advanced Higher Biology, Geography and French and is on the Eco-Committee at school as it works towards the ‘eco schools flag’. She is particularly passionate about protecting nature and increasing biodiversity; about ‘proper’ recycling; and buying second-hand.
Anna started off the discussion, speaking about international finance. She picked up on Anote’s point about the rich nations having responsibility for the plight of Kiribati. Increasingly, because science can demonstrate accountability, global companies are being successfully sued by indigenous peoples. Richard spoke about the need for education and awareness if we are to have any hope of changing people’s behaviour and tackling climate change. He also raised the issues of land use and land ownership that limit the effectiveness of action. Zoe picked up on the tragic fact that anything we plan to do in the future will have little positive impact on Kiribati. As she said, 2050 is too late and it breeds complacency if people think they can kick the problem into the future. Anna pointed out that in addition, we cannot rely on technology to solve the climate crisis because only 20% of the technology we need has been developed.
The discussion with the audience was widened out and we had some very enlightening information on overseas aid: how cuts in overseas aid by the UK government have a disproportionately larger impact than we are led to believe; and that resilience aid to countries like Kiribati is in the form of loans, not grants, so the rich countries are not paying for the pollution they have caused. We also heard how Western countries often tolerate graft and corruption in poorer countries, leading to inefficient use of the resources they do have. One question raised was about how indigenous peoples and small nations have been threatened with being sued for the loss of commercial opportunities if they mount environmental challenges. Anna felt that this would not happen because companies would not be able to bear the reputational damage this would do.
So what can we in Scotland do? Firstly we should write to our politicians and campaign to have the overseas aid reinstated. Those of us with pensions and investments should use these to discourage investment in polluting companies. We should all vote with our wallets, challenging companies like Tesco about their environmental credentials and shopping in more environmentally-sound shops. Buy less, use less, buy second-hand. We should, as Zoe is doing, work to make institutions more environmentally friendly and adopt low carbon practices, and hold them all to account.
Credit: Text by Jan and Jill