Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
It has been over a year since your declaration of a ‘Decade (2014-2024) of Sustainable Energy For All’ so we are hereby sharing our ideas about the topic.
Mr. Secretary-General, it is apparent to us that as ‘island nations’ we have one vote only in the United Nations and we have no economic power to engage the issues of climate change. This is not a statement seeking pity or money; this is a statement of fact. Island nations contribute very little to climate change, yet we are the ones losing our land.
Mr. Secretary-General, we ask that you consider our words and share them with others with the resources to combat climate change. We know there are still people out there saying climate change is not happening. Well, we can’t speak for people who live in larger cities and continents and have no clue about what is going on in our part of the world. We can only speak for ourselves. We are seeing greater changes to our environments. High tides that used to come to the shore-line next to the mangroves or next to the rock-walls now come into our porch areas and recently, they have come into our homes. We see subtle changes that we cannot explain. We will leave that for the scientific community to answer. Our place here is to bring the voice of island nations to show what we are going through in the midst of a global political posturing.
Island nations are full of creative, loving, hospitable and caring human beings. We are not characters in travel magazines, or some out of the way noble savages. Let us remember the nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands which happened years ago but which has seen women continue to give birth to babies bearing the effects of radiation. We are not some footnote in history news reels saying we “agree for the benefit of humanity.” Now humanity is benefiting and island nations are forced to be at the front line of the climate change debate. Mr. Secretary-General, once again we are not writing these words to gain your sympathy, we write them to remind you and the United Nations that every action has a consequence, and we are experiencing it right now.
So we propose a simple vision, one that is taken from the last sentence of the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of Palau which can be used as a road map to create technology, policy and action to deal with climate change. The preamble states, “In establishing this Constitution of the sovereign Republic of Palau, we venture into the future with full reliance on our own efforts and the divine guidance of Almighty God.” We want to highlight how we can venture into the future with full reliance on our own efforts. Remember the old saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he will eat every day.” This is what we propose to create as the vision for the decade.
Climate change and environmental issues can be debated till every expert have had their say but it will not address our problem. We need solutions now and we propose to focus on the following three areas: Human development; low technology solutions; and creating an example of excellence.
Too often we put too much emphasis on economic development believing that a strong economy will create a better society. I beg to differ with this easy and lazy analysis of island nations that we only need to have a more transparent government, a vibrant economy, and a better tax structure to bring in foreign investors and then everything will be better. What this does is it continues to create dependency, not self-reliance. We know no one can be isolated from the global economy but we need to set policies that every nation will try to do for themselves in the best way possible, then incorporate new technology, economy and practices to support what they are already doing. In his book “Foreign Flower” Peter Lamour warns us of the danger of taking one institution and placing it in another country and expecting success. Instead we must seek to understand and respect the values, culture, and practices of a particular nation so an appropriate system can be put in place.
We must focus on human development by training future leaders to be creative, energetic and skilled. These young men and women will be trained to have the skills to address the problems that confront our future. As Albert Einstein said, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We need to ensure future leaders have a sound thinking process so they can adequately solve our problems.
Secondly, we need to create and endorse low-tech solutions that consider our environment and our resources. This can be accomplished when we take our first goal, human development and identify the priority fields for future leaders. We need to encourage our children to become engineers, scientists, teachers or agriculturalists and who can incorporate traditional knowledge with contemporary technology. The best example is of a young engineer who is able to create a diverse low-tech alternative energy solution for island nations. The outline of this system will be how to coordinate our environmental resources; sun, ocean, wind and bio-diesel to create a power generating plant that will not depend on imported fossil fuels and can meet the demands of a growing economy. The system can use solar panels and bio-diesel to maintain the minimum energy required to operate the power plant. The bio-diesel can be produced by creating an aquaculture plant like algae or seaweed for bio-diesel that uses the ocean’s tidal, wave, current and thermal energy to support the production of power.
Thirdly, we can use the wind with kites and wind turbines to help in power production. Other products that can be developed with low-tech solutions are food and transportation. Specifically the call to eat organic local foods is both economically and medically sound and it is better for the environment as it limits our carbon footprint. We could also revive the canoe tradition to remind people we can travel without fossil fuels. Again, these are just ideas but they can happen.
Finally, Mr. Secretary-General, we need to create a model nation that will be a global example of excellence. Albert Bandura’s work on behavior states, “If you want to change how [people] behave, you have to first change how they think.” Mahatma Ghandi also said, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We envision a vibrant and creative future generation that can come up with this type of alternative energy plan and put it to action. This will be a good example the United Nations can honor and point to as a starting point.
Our islands have abundant natural resources that we can draw energy from in a sustainable way – help us to help ourselves and create low-tech solutions for energy provision that can help mitigate the effects of climate change we are already experiencing.
Photo credit: Last months heavy downpour in Kiribati resulted in the overflow of the pond in Anraei Bonriki leading to the flooding of many homes – Humans of Kiribati