Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, 30, is a native of the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. This country of ~53,000 people is spread out over 1,159 islands with most of the population on 29 coral atolls. As a poet, Kathy writes about sea-level rise, and the damage to homes, businesses and their way of life. Most of the islands are only a few feet above sea level. With very little total land area it has a significant population density per square mile.
By contrast, we have the island of Greenland. This island is the largest non-continental island in the world. It is huge! It also has a similar population to that of the Marshall Islands; about 56,000. Height above sea level is not a problem for Greenland with its highest point some 12,000 feet above sea level. In the 1990’s scientists drilled through almost 2 miles of ice in central Greenland and obtained ice cores that have given us climate history going back over 100,000 years.
Here we now have another poet and climate activist, a 23-year-old Greenlander named Aka Niviana. As the ice thaws and melts, Aka senses that her traditional way of life is disappearing. As the ice melt pours into the ocean from the island glaciers and raises sea levels, the impact on Kathy’s way of life in the Marshall Islands is also disappearing.
Photo of Kathy [left] and Aka [right] viewing a retreating glacier. Photo Source
The relentless rise of the oceans over the past 25 years is clear and shows no sign of slowing up. Indeed the rate of rising in millimetres per year is increasing. This satellite data were preceded by tidal gauge data going back another 100 years, and while more variable, showed a similar but slower upward trend.
Thus, we have this climate link, this connection, between these two poets a half-world apart.
In his inimitable style and articulate fashion, Bill McKibben writes in The Guardian in September 2018 about this meeting between east and west, high elevation and low. Mr. McKibben wrote the first book on Climate Change in 1989, “The End of Nature,” and also co-founded 350.org.
Photo of Bill McKibben and the two poets [Kathy- left; Aka- right], in Greenland. Source
The intent is obvious. Get two thoughtful people together, representing two diverse cultures, which are experiencing firsthand, ice melt and sea-level rise caused by climate change, to collaborate on a poem together would make a powerful statement. And they did just that. The excerpt below is from that poem, “Rise.” The whole poem, and a six-minute video of the two women narrating it, can be found here.
Excerpts from Rise by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Aka Niviana:
"Sister of ocean and sand,Can you see our glaciers groaning
with the weight of the world’s heat?
I wait for you, here,
on the land of my ancestors heart heavy with a thirst
as I watch this land
while the World remains silent."
"we demand that the world see beyond
SUV’s, ac’s, their pre-packaged convenience
their oil-slicked dreams, beyond the belief
that tomorrow will never happen, that this
is merely an inconvenient truth."
"that life in all forms demands
the same respect we all give to money
that these issues affect each and everyone of us
None of us is immune
And that each and everyone of us has to decide
This melting of ice and resulting mass loss in Greenland is not confined there. Data from the World Glacier Monitoring Service indicates that 2018 will be the 30th consecutive year of significant ice loss for 25 reference glaciers in 13 countries around the world. Only one glacier had a positive mass balance meaning that more snow/ice accumulated than melted.
Jill Pelto, a talented young artist [see her website], illustrates this glacial melt and ice loss over time, in the painting shown below.
The scientific career of Raymond N. Johnson Ph.D., spanned 30 years in research and development as an organic/analytical chemist; he is currently founder and director of the Institute of Climate Studies USA [www.icsusa.org].