Fulbright National Geographic Storyteller
I am a journalist sharing stories about humans responding to climate change. I have primarily focused on climate adaptation, cultural resilience, and environmental leadership in Indigenous communities. I am trained in science communications and solutions journalism, with a background in international development and anthropology.
Many of the communities I have lived in and written about—in addition to dealing with the legacy of colonization—have been disproportionately affected by climate change, fossil fuel extraction, or mining. But they have also developed their own innovative ways to adapt to environmental changes, maintain their culture, and survive. I try to share stories from underrepresented communities that add complexity to the dominant narrative and spark discussion and change.
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. Salty sea water has infiltrated the fresh water aquifers people rely on for drinking water. Staple food crops are dying out as salt water and intense king tides wipe them out.
Most media coverage of Kiribati has focused on climate-induced migration. But for most i-Kiribati, leaving is the last resort. Instead, they have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of dramatic environmental changes.
This is not just happening in the Pacific. Changes are happening everywhere, and they’re affecting Indigenous communities and those in the developing world the most. 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.
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 a pipeline, reclaim their land, and revitalize their traditional nomadic heritage. These community-based or Indigenous-led initiatives tend to be the most effective way to protect the land and meet people’s basic needs.
These grassroots innovations are counteracting and resisting the destruction caused by fossil fuels. Recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples, who have long lived in harmony with nature, is essential to protecting what’s left. Sharing stories of communities responding to climate change can hopefully contribute to discussion, collaboration, and positive change, instead of further polarization.
Mining activities, often tied to colonial interests, separate people from the land they’ve lived on and depended on for generations. I spent months with the Banaban islanders, residents of a phosphate island in the Central Pacific, to learn how they maintained their culture after nearly a century of British phosphate mining. The Banabans were forcibly displaced from their homeland in 1945 to facilitate the strip-mining, which occurred from 1901-1979. Those who returned to live on Banaba today are still living with asbestos sheeting and rusted metal left behind when the British left in 1979. While their island has yet to be rehabilitated, they are proud to be living on their ancestral homeland.
Most of my work has been done with an ethnographic approach--living with families and getting to know people on a deeper level. 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.