Fulbright National Geographic Storyteller
I am a journalist sharing stories about the community-level impacts and adaptations to climate change around the world. I focus on solutions-oriented stories and innovations that communities are using to adapt to the impacts of climate change. I also cover climate science and have been fortunate to interview some of the world's leading climate scientists and researchers, like Wally Broecker and Richard Alley. Understanding the science is essential to explaining why these changes are happening around the world.
Spending months living with families in Kiribati and Fiji opened my eyes to the direct impacts of climate change and the ways communities have been adapting.
In many of the villages I visited, climate change has compounded existing challenges to meet peoples' basic needs. Intense storms, cyclones, extreme droughts, and sea level rise have affected peoples' abilities to maintain their livelihoods.
I explored the relationship between people and their sense of place by living for months off-the-grid with the Banaban islanders, who were forcibly displaced by the British Phosphate Commission in 1945. Though their homeland has yet to be rehabilitated, 300 Banabans returned to safeguard their island from further destruction. The legacy of colonialism is still affecting the Banabans, who are living in houses filled with asbestos that the British left behind, because they have no way to remove it.
But this is not just happening in the Pacific—farmers in south-central India have been experiencing severe droughts and unusual rainfall patterns, making it difficult to count on a reliable harvest each year. For years before the devastating Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rican communities had been dealing with regular flooding and coastal erosion associated with rising sea levels. And in Canada, the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline would cut through unceded Indigenous territory, destroying the ecosystems and food sources these communities have depended on for centuries.
But these communities have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of dramatic environmental changes. Low-tech greenhouses in India are helping small farmers adapt to the severe droughts. A young i-Kiribati man has started teaching his community how to make their own hydroponic systems in order to grow vegetables in raised boxes, away from the damaging high tides. Women in British Columbia are building solar-powered tiny houses to block the pipeline, reclaim their land, and revitalize their traditional nomadic heritage.
These are small-scale innovations that are counteracting and resisting the destruction caused by fossil fuels. Sharing stories of communities responding to climate change can hopefully contribute to discussion, collaboration, and positive change, rather than further polarization.
Unusual rainfall patterns make it harder for women to dry the leaves needed to make thatched roofing and mats in the outer islands of Kiribati. Image by Janice Cantieri.
Subsistence fishing communities in Kiribati. Climate change is making it harder for these communities to grow crops that supplement their diets. Image by Janice Cantieri.
Tiny houses are a trendy way to live minimally and downsize—but for a Secwepemc community in British Columbia, they’re an act of resistance. Since the fall, Indigenous women of the Secwepemc Nation—calling themselves the Tiny House Warriors—have been constructing tiny houses that they plan to strategically place in the pathway of the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Read more here.
Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. Image by Janice Cantieri.
Most of my work has been done with an ethnographic approach--living with families and getting to know people on a deeper level by spending time with them. I do my best to avoid furthering colonial narratives. I hope that the work I do stays as true to the local narrative as possible, though I am aware that as a foreigner, my presence in a community affects the stories I might hear. A community's story is best told by a member of that community, but I think there is value in sharing cross-culturally because it can spark discussion and interaction between different communities in different parts of the world.