Kathy is a Marshallese activist and poet who works with youth to create social change. Her work focuses on threats to her people, including climate change and nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands.
The Marshall Islands include over 1,000 islands in the northern Pacific Ocean and are home to almost 70,000 people. Climate change poses a major threat as the islands sit an average of two metres above sea level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projections predict that two-thirds of the islands will be under water by 2100.
“Climate change is a challenge that few want to take on, but the price of inaction is so high,” says Kathy. “Those of us from Oceania are already experiencing it first hand. We’ve seen waves crashing into our homes and our breadfruit trees wither from the salt and drought. We look at our children and wonder how they will know themselves or their culture should we lose our islands.”
Nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands has also destroyed several atolls and caused serious health problems among residents.
To address these issues, Kathy co-founded Jo-Jikum, a non-profit organization that educates youth on environmental issues. Jo-Jikum means “your home” in Marshallese and fosters a sense of responsibility and love for the islands.
Jo-Jikum gives islanders the tools they need to respond to climate change by organizing island-wide cleanups, climate change workshops, community movie nights and other activities. The organization also helps families cover the cost of rebuilding their homes after climate-related damage through its Climate Disaster Relief Fund.
“Climate change affects not only us islanders, it threatens the entire world,” says Kathy. “To tackle it we need a radical change of course…It means ending carbon pollution within my lifetime, it means supporting those of us most affected to prepare for unavoidable climate impacts, and it means taking responsibility for irreversible loss and damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”
In her heartfelt performance at this year’s Climate Summit in New York, Kathy made a personal plea for the world to act on climate change and brought UN delegates to their feet.
Watch her statement and performance below.
Three Weeks after the UN Climate Summit or Coming Home to a Climate Reality by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Iep Jeltok, November 2, 2014.
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