Climate Change, Plastics and social responsibility, more lessons from my trip to Fiji

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Plastic debris litters a shoreline in the capitol city of Suva, Fiji.

As the world gathers to take account of the ways humanity has made an impact on the global climate, and the ways we can work together to reduce our impacts on the world I want to look back into more of the lessons and experiences I had while in Fiji.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the activities I participated in was Climate Week events in Levuka, Fiji.  These events were in preparation for the ongoing climate talks happening in Bonn, Germany.  the purpose of this meeting, “under the Presidency of the Republic Fiji to negotiate the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.”

Impacts from climate change are affecting Fiji in many ways.  As the temperatures change along with the frequency of rainfall, concerns about water and food security are a real and active issue being faced by villagers in the 106 inhabited islands of Fiji.  Throughout my 2 year tour in the South Pacific I was overwhelmed by the dependence on imported food and the quantities of plastic that were consumed in remote areas of the world.  Much of this plastic is from water transported to the various islands on a one way trip of wasteful consumption and environmental pollution.   For most of the world, consuming plastic water is one of the greatest way individuals collectively pollute the world.  Additionally, due to the great awakening brought on by the Standing Rock Sioux, the indigenous people of the world are awakening their great and united voice, declaring that now is the time we must tend to the needs of Mother Earth.

While I was with the delegation members of the COP23 climate change week activities in September 2017, I engaged in a variety of conversations with village leaders and government staff.  Many were shocked at how the pieces of plastic water combine.  We talked about life on the islands, where for most needs, villagers are often required to grow their own foods, to work the land by hand and through a relationship with the Earth, eek out their livings.  We talked about plastic and it’s roles in global climate change.
I began by showing them how a bottle of water damages the environment through carbon pollution.  I explained how essentially, drinking plastic bottles of water burns oil into the atmosphere.  According to the Pacific Institute, the combined energy of creation and transportation of plastic is equivalent to 25% of the volume of the bottle in oil burned into the atmosphere.  Essentially for every 4 liters of Fiji bottled water one consumes, one liter of oil is burned into the atmosphere.  For a case of plastic water consumed in the United States that’s 2.25 quarts of oil per case of 12 oz (500 ml) bottles.

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There are no Target stores in Fiji, where both of these items were cleaned off a beach next to Votualalai Village off the Coral Coast where a key reef protection zone exists.

Through my time in working with those across the islands, many islanders will recognize their plastic water consumption as unnecessary.  I continuously asked people on the islands, what do they do with the plastics after they use them?    Please remember that left on the island, they will take up quantities plastics that left in the ocean will take up to 500 years to degrade into micro-plastics the size of grains of sand.

The reality is that across the islands of the South Pacific, including the island of Ovalau, Fiji – and the old capitol city of Levuka (a World Heritage Sitea World Heritage Site) plastic waste is often burned into the atmosphere.  Burning plastic has some impacts both global climate change as well as emissions that the ozone hole.  Unfortunately, every island nation that has people on it, consumes plastics in one form or another.  Many, like Fiji are phasing in plastic bag bans, generally with a fee or are introducing biodegradable plastic bags.

Sitting around a bowl of grog on a Wednesday evening in September, I was blessed to sit with people facing this issue first hand, where the problem is a daily part of life.  They have mixed water quality issues because some piping is starting to rust.  The infrastructure, laid in the ground 50-60 years ago; is beginning to deteriorate.  Many villagers are concerned that the replacement pipe is plastic and not metal.   Additionally, Ovalau was hit by a hurricane in February- 2016 and is still recovering from the storm. There are houses and buildings in every village that are not repaired.  By my observations I would estimate that less than one in twenty houses have rain water storage.

How do we solve this problem?  In most villages people don’t understand that carcinogens and heavy metals are released when they burn plastic trash. For two months I have been pondering this question.  If you’ve read my waste management paper on converting plastic to fuel, you know that there are many ways we can repurpose the waste from our consumption practices.  Currently I’m working on a feasibility study regarding a specific way to utilize post consumer plastics to create new molded or printed plastic containers.  This concept would allow local consumers to transform their waste into environmental preparedness and protect themselves from water scarcity as well and divert from the developing  practice of drinking water purchased from another place in the world.

As we look at what processes and ideas we can come up with to reduce our carbon footprint and the stresses upon mother earth, I for one am paying close attention to the conversations coming as Fiji leads COP23 in Bonn, Germany.

Fiji – Climate Change, COP23 and Sustainable Practices – A Firsthand Experience ( Part 1 of a Series)

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Teaching children to clean rubbish provides lifelong experience to prevent the creation of litter.

I love Fiji!!!!   As a people the life and community mindset of people is a step away from the major concerns of the world.  “Bula”, the common greeting which is often responded with “Bula Bula” or “Bula Vinaca”;  is hard to express without a smile on your face.  In fact, in 2014 Fiji was determined to be the Happiest Place on Earth. Climate change is a daily and real life issue for many who live among Fiji’s 300 islands.  Here, in 2016 Hurricane Winston had a real life impact for many.  Homes, food sources and shorelines experienced catastrophic changes, changes that impact the daily life of villagers. In continued response to Winston as well as addressing the concerns for immediate and long term impacts of climate change and in support of their hosting COP23 in Bonn, Germany; Fiji engaged in a week long direct community engagement program the week of September 22-29, 2017.

In the town of , Levuka, Eastern Division, Fiji; I was blessed to find myself in the midst of an amazing group of people who were hosting a series of meetings in different villages on this island.  This was the Western Division meeting and there were several different meetings throughout the community.  Leveuka, a World Heritage Site, was one of 6 community sites throughout the country.

Members of this team included staff from Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Ministry of Fisheries,d Ministry of Taukei Affairs, Offices of the Provincial Administrator, Corrections and more.   This community had been working together for 4 or 5 days when I arrived on Tuesday night.  They opened the event with a parade on Friday, as can been seen in the local Fiji Sun article.  My two day adventure with this team consisted of meeting in the morning at the community meeting room, located just across the street from the village police compound.  We would load up and travel to a neighboring village. At the village, members of the community would meet with members of the team.  This happened in several segments.

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Children in Draiba, Fiji participate in replanting important mangroves which were destroyed by  Cyclone Winston in Feb, 2016

The first of these was the formal Kava Ceremony which is cultural to the South Pacific Islands.  During the Kava Ceremony, a cup of Kava grog is presented to the elders and leaders of the meeting.  While this occurs, these people have a chance to speak to the meeting at large.  Then, members of the working team would have opportunities to present key aspects of their programs and key important details of the Ministry’s working programs.  These programs focus on the realities of climate change and the ways that members of the village have responsibilities to take action both individually and collectively to help protect their families and to prepare for the continued changes that their village will experience as the conditions of the local climate continue to change.

Focusing on surviving the conditions of climate change is important to Fiji.  Simply looking at it’s makeup of over 300 islands allows for an easy understanding of why.  Under traditional and preparedness conditions, each island – even each village, should be self sustaining.  This means that food production, water cleanliness and storage; as well as secure housing and protection from water shortages are all responsibilities of the local government.  Through the COP23 program relationships, village elders are able to address concerns about the future needs of the villages and to build relationships with the employees from various agencies who will have the responsibility to address the needs.  Some of the needs addressed include: adequate long term planning for food resources, protecting against erosion, infrastructure to keep clean water available, and ensuring that adequate mangrove protections exist.

This leads directly to the secondary part of each day’s programming, hands on mitigation!!!!  It’s in this time-frame that members of the team, working together with the members of the loImage may contain: 1 person, sitting, child, outdoor and naturecal village community – get their hands dirty doing the work to prevent or mitigate against the impacts of Global Climate Change.  This time presented opportunities to learn how to set up nurseries to plant coconut fields and mangroves, protect against erosion by planting deep root grasses, cleaning up litter to protect the water supply as well as fisheries, and planting climate change resistant crops.

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Ministry of Agriculture representative, Irene Singh (left) explains the importance of planting traditional Fijian Coconut Trees as  Provincial Administrator Ropait Rakadi (right) and members of the community participate in planting a new field of trees.

Through these important hands on activities, both young and old were able to take some active role in supporting their village.  Recent events, especially recovering from the impacts from Cyclone Winston, bring understanding and urgency to active preparations and rebuilding efforts.  This practice aligns with the time tested phrase, “It takes a Village”, which well look at further in my next article.

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