Caring About Far Away Places

My stories make it obvious that I love places that require a difficult journey to visit. Greenland. Bhutan. Antarctica. Tierra del Fuego. A small village in Nigeria. A lake in the Mountains of Guatemala. If it’s hard to get to from where I am, I love to write about it.

No place is more remote to a Texan that the island nation of Kiribati. This south pacific country of 100,000 people is made up of 33 low-lying coral atolls with a total land area of about 300 square miles. More spectacularly, it is the only nation on earth to set inside of all four hemispheres, and it covers a million square miles on the globe.

The map is from a wonderful website about Kiribati, which I referred to frequently when I was writing y1. Visit JANE’S KIRIBATI HOME PAGE to enjoy this bit of Micronesia.

Someday I hope to visit this place that I spent so much time learning about but I understand that I better not take too long. As the melting icecaps raise global sea level, the low lying atolls of Kiribati are becoming submerged. Leaders of this country have been planning a national exodus for years, seeking asylum for their descendants once the nation is completely under water.

In the meantime, Kiribati and it’s nearby neighbors are doing their best to raise awareness of the drastic effects climate change is having on this part of the world. The well known 2015 Paris Climate Agreement grew out of years of work, shepherded along at yearly United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change. The yearly gathering for 2017 will be hosted by Kiribati’s Melanesian neighbor, Fiji.

In spite of my own country’s lack of recent leadership regarding climate change, I will be cheering on the representatives of Polynesian, Micronesia and Melanesia as they take the world the stage.

As I watch with dismay as the United States turns more towards nationalist politics, I’ve been trying to discern where my own fascination with all the rest of the world began. I have this theory that music is a powerful tool for introducing ideas, and I remembered hearing a particular song as a child. I didn’t think I could find it, but luckily the song title is part of the lyrics and, like almost everything else, there it is on YouTube. Very old fashioned, although the beautiful voice of Sam Cooke brings a magic that transcends the decades.

Imagine yourself on an island in the South Pacific and enjoy!

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door andThe Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.)

Saving the chance to save the world

approvedTwenty or so minutes ago the final draft of the climate change agreement reached in Paris was adopted by the envoys from 195 nations. The news was greeted with a standing ovation. Delegates cheered and hugged each other, happy to have achieved more than any of the previous such conferences that have been held over the past two decades.

Predictably, not everyone else cheered. Protesters in the streets of Paris claimed that the agreement didn’t go far enough, and many global environmental organizations echoed the sentiment. Concern was expressed that the burden of achieving the goals was not fairly distributed. Meanwhile, those who deny climate change even exists began complaining almost immediately about the financial implications. In the U.S., conservative politicians were quick to promise to fight U.S. compliance.

It’s a scary, cantankerous world out there. I am personally amazed that 195 nations could come together and agree on lunch plans, much less agree to commit to keeping the rise in the planets temperature to less than two degrees Celsius. I believe that this is an amazingly hopeful moment for us as a species.

Word has it that one of the major reasons negotiators were able to reach a deal at all was that this time around much of the work was done in advance. Quiet armies of researches and politicians began laying the groundwork for this a year ago, after COP20 in Lima Peru. I happen to know one of these researches, and have followed his journey over the last year as he and many of his colleagues have each played their small roles in making history as they worked hard behind the scenes to bring science and policy together in a positive way.

My own interest in climate change grew when I wrote the book y1, and learned about the effects of rising sea level on the island nations I was writing about. With a background in geology I understand quite well how the earth shifts over time. I also understand the difference between the natural and slow moving processes of the earth, and the unpredictably dangerous rapid changes introduced by the human race. Because of this, I pledged ten percent of my proceeds from y1 to the World Resources Institute, a group fighting to secure a sustainable future for our species. I was pleased to read that Jennifer Morgan, of the World Resources Institute commented that if the Paris Agreement was adopted “then countries [will] have united around a historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate crisis.”

bolder3So congratulations to the delegates, politicians, and many concerned humans who worked so hard to make the adoption of this agreement happen. Have they collectively saved the world? I don’t think anyone believes that. My favorite quote is from Bill McKibben, the co-founder of the environmentalist group 350.org. He said of the agreement “This didn’t save the planet, but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

Times being what they are, I’m happy with that.

(Thanks to Growing Bolder for the quote above.)

 

 

 

 

Kiribati, Peru and a review of “Interstellar”

11116389_sToday I learned of a short, moving post called “The Last Generation of Kiribati“. It’s a beautifully done look at how climate change is destroying the small island nation I wrote about in y1, and how it is doing so in a time frame in which natural geological changes simply do not occur. Parents in Kiribati are literally looking for foreign countries to take in their children before the oceans rise too high, and hoping they will be granted at least refugee status over the next several years as their island nation ceases to exist.

I seldom speak of my family on these blogs, but those who know a little about me know that my fictitious family of reluctant superheroes was loosely modeled after my own. The son who inspired the character Zane never worked in pharmaceuticals, and as far as I know he has never shape-shifted, but he does labor in the arena of mitigating climate change. As I write this he is in Peru, part of a massive congregation of concerned citizens of earth trying to nudge the world’s governments towards addressing the fact that seven billion people can and are affecting the life support system on which we depend.

Which brings me to the last time I saw my son. We share a love of science fiction and saw “Interstellar” together at an Imax theater. Let me rephrase that. We both enjoy good science fiction, and share a distaste for the unbelievable disaster movies that climate change has inspired, from the plot holes in Waterworld to the science holes in The Day After Tomorrow.

There are some of both in Interstellar, too, but I found the devastation of the blight and dust storms convincing. Growing up in Western Kansas may have helped, but honestly, as far as threats to the human race go, the slow destruction of crops and a growing inability to feed the world felt plausible.

7267479_lI pretty much forgive anyone who introduces worm holes so that the plot can include space travel. Come on, if you want your folks to get out of the solar system you’ve got to let your writers have worm holes, so no quarrel there. I even gave the movie points for creative use of a strong gravity field and for having the plot revolve around how heavy gravity effects the speed at which time passes. Even the acting and dialog weren’t bad. It was a solid B+ in my opinion.

In fact, I only had one persistent quarrel with the movie and it was the underlying premise. I do love the idea of going to strange new worlds and settling them. In fact, my chief career ambition for most of my childhood was to become a science officer on the star ship Enterprise. So I studied science, and learned what a delicate balance it is that sustains us. Nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide. Temperature and pressure. Tiny micro-organisms and worms and bugs. There is a whole complicated ecosystem that gets the food on our tables and keeps our hearts and lungs working for a lifetime. I wish that if this planet fails us — or more accurately if we fail it — that we could simply pack our bags and start elsewhere, just like they do in the movie.

But I fear that isn’t so. We don’t just need dirt to make a world, or air we can mange to breathe for awhile. Our body’s long term survival depends on the complex inter-related support of millions of creatures that all evolved here, on this particular planet. Everyone one of them needs things to be pretty much they way they are here. We can’t all pack up and go. Not nearly that easily at least.

I studied geophysics at a school that supplies talent to much of the oil industry, but we’re not all climate change deniers with our heads buried in the in the sand, and some of us have been on board with concern for decades. My adviser had a poster featured in his office. It was a picture of the earth from space with the caption “Good planets are hard to find.” And so they are.

Light Within 1Tonight, I think of that poster and the movie “Interstellar” and the feature on Kiribati. I think of my son and all the nations represented and the politicians and agendas and posturing that is going on in Lima. I hope, against much evidence to the contrary, that common sense will prevail.

Meanwhile, I did learn to love Kiribati from my research and after I finished writing y1 I resolved to go visit it someday. It looks like I better hurry.