Vanuatu… it’s just not fair

In Jake’s Orangutan blog yesterday, WordPress dropped his photo captions initially.  Many of the captions tell little stories, and they have now been restored so those of you who “follow” our  blog (get emailed our entries) might want to have another look at

We’ve had 4 great days in Hong Kong and leave for Nepal tomorrow evening.
Anyone who has read our postings from our 3 weeks in Vanuatu knows that we fell in love with the country. It is so tragically ironic that it is some of the very qualities we admired that made Vanuatu so vulnerable to cyclone Pam. Nivans build their homes from local materials. Woven bamboo walls and thatched roofs. I can’t imagine how any of these homes would withstand a category 5 cyclone.

bamboo walls, thatched roofs ... gone!

We also admired their food self sufficiency. They work very hard in their gardens so they can eat all year. Very little food is canned/bagged/stored and consequently their food “footprint” from carbon or packaging is next to nothing. But many of these gardens have been destroyed, and there is no store of any size to find food. And even if there was they don’t really focus on saving cash because they are self sufficient.
They live close to the sea and so many homes in Lamen Bay (where we had such a wonderful Christmas) are not more than 1 or 2 meters above high tide.  Apparently the storm surge was 8m in some places. Their home-made wooden fishing (read “food”) boats will be smashed.


We haven’t been able to find news of how Lamen Bay made out though we did learn that our hosts Rob and Alix at the Epi Island Guest House at the south end of island (we spent Christmas Dinner and evening on their beach) are alive and that their guesthouse is intact.
I wanted to write this post for two reasons.  The first was to highlight what has been well documented in the media – that they are so vulnerable as described above.  But I also wanted to pick up on a theme also in the media – that this cyclone is a result of climate change.  This is the assertion of Vanuatu’s president Baldwin Lonsdale and it has received much comment in the media.  I follow climate change science closely, and the consensus among peer reviewed science is that:
a) it is not possible to link any particular storm event to climate change
b) storm events in general are becoming more frequent and severe as a result of climate change
c) the frequency of cyclones and hurricanes in particular is NOT increasing, but the severity is

The folks in Vanuatu say they’ve never seen a cyclone like Pam.

What troubles me most is the fact that these Nivans have done virtually nothing to contribute to climate change and hence the severity of Pam, but are ultimately the ones now without homes, food or water.  With the exception of some folks living in the main centers their carbon footprints are virtually zero.  They cook on carbon neutral wood fires and source their food and building supplies locally.  Many Nivans know all about climate change from government and school education programs.  So it is not lost on them that it is us in the wealthy north that are basically responsible for their mess.  And I use “us” quite literally, because I am actually rather ashamed of the carbon generated by our air travel this year.
Friends in Canada who follow climate science will know that the brutally cold winter at home is not out of line with the “more frequent extreme weather event” prediction of scientists.  And extreme flood events in Canada and abroad have unmistakably increased in frequency and severity.
Another climate “summit” approaches in December (Paris).  I can only hope that an election comes in time to rid Canada of our federal “leadership” that alternately denies/lies/obfuscates and otherwise does nothing to solve the problem.  I am at least relieved that our Peterborough riding is no longer represented by Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro.  The first time he visited my classroom (on invite in 2008) he denied that the climate was changing and said that Al Gore had it all wrong.  Last year some of my students and Kaia and Jake and friends visited Mr Del Mastro at his office.  When Jake told him that he was ashamed of Canada’s record at climate conferences and Canada’s perpetual winning of the “fossil award” (given by NGOs to the country that has done the most to prevent the successful negotiation of a climate treaty), Del Mastro cut Jake off before he could finish, turned all red in the face, then barked at Jake “who produces more CO2, Canada or China?”  Dean Del Mastro is irrelevant of course, as he awaits his sentencing on election fraud.  But that he would  have this asinine quip on the ready speaks volumes of his party’s approach.  Was that ever a powerful hour of learning for my students and kids!
Yes, Vanuatu is a half world away from Canada.  But we are connected to them much more closely than most Canadians know or care to admit.  Good thing the proximate Australians, with carbon footprints similar to ours, are at least lending a hand.
To our Nivan friends:  Famili blong mi givim yufala nambawan wishes blong spid recovery.


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