Speaker Brings Personal Experiences with Global Warming to SF State
October 11, 2006 5:02 PM
Try telling Ben Namakin that global warming doesn’t exist. The 26-year-old Pacific Islander, who gave a talk Oct. 11 to SF State students about the effects of climate change in his country, knows just how real rising sea levels can be.
“The people of Micronesia and other islands are experiencing global warming firsthand,” he said. “We’re not just losing our land and our homes. We’re losing our culture. Our cultural identity is at stake.”
Namakin addressed about 35 students, highlighting the experiences of the people in islands such as Kiribati, Micronesia and Tuvalu, which are all located north of Australia.
For almost a month, Namakin has been traveling around the United States with Global Exchange, an environmental non-profit organization, which educates students about the effects climate change is having on countries across the globe. The focus of his activism is to change American dependence on oil.
“We don’t think ‘bad Americans, it’s all your fault,’” he said. “But we really want to get the truth out there. We want to educate kids from the first grade how real this is so they know not to consume so much energy.”
Namakin, who grew up in Kiribati and Micronesia, attended a vocational high school. After graduating with a diploma in marine science and agriculture, he went to work for the Conservation Society of Pohnpei in Micronesia. It was there he began to study the effects of global warming on his country.
Namakin cited numerous examples of the plight of Pacific Islanders against the forces of climate change. When he was young, he and friends frequented a nearby island to kayak and scuba dive. When told by his boss at the Conservation Society to go to the island to see an example of sea level change, he found that his childhood home had been split down the middle with a pool of water and had become two separate islands.
“All I could see was dead wood and trees in the water,” he said. “It’s sad to see your island sink.”
Another serious problem for island residents is the threat to food sources.
“Fishermen use rocks in the sea to navigate where to fish. Now those rocks are under water, and they’re losing their livelihood and source of food,” he said. “Our crops, like taro root, are being drowned by saltwater, and other plants that provide food and medicine are disappearing.”
In his fight for acknowledgement of the effects of global warming, Namakin doesn’t always receive encouragement. He told of a student in Micronesia who advised him to discontinue his campaign because it would never change anything.
“I say to those people, maybe we won’t make a difference, but at least we’re being responsible about it. At least we’re doing what we can,” he said.
When confronted with skeptics of climate change, Namakin said he just presents the overwhelming facts and his own experience.
“It may be easy to believe that global warming is not happening, but it is. About 99 percent of scientists know it is, and they know it is happening at the hands of humans,” he said. “Climate change is real. I want you to believe that. It’s an issue very close to my heart, and something must be done.”
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