The World Wildlife Fund often focuses on how melting ice hurts the living conditions of polar bears, and national news organizations focus on heat waves and cold weather caused by climate change, but three journalists from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting were in the area recently to discuss how climate change already affects people drastically.
Using stories from the Himalayas, India and the Carteret Islands, William Wheeler, Anna K. Gravgaard and Jennifer Redfearn brought their findings to students and faculty last week at a Southern Illinois University Carbondale presentation on climate change.
Each of the trio visited a different country for six months and documented how climate change impacts people today. They each believe that the problem is a genuine and serious issue that people need to be aware of.
Redfearn worked in the South Pacific island of Han part of the Carteret Islands. This chain now has seven islands because one recently split into two because of a rise in sea levels.
The Carteret Islands are near the Solomon Islands and one of the Solomons, Bougainville, is where the people of the Carterets hope to eventually relocate to. They expect their homes to be destroyed by rising water and blame climate change and melting glaciers. Now the islanders have surrounded their land with a seashell barrier to protect it from the ocean. All of their fresh water sources have been contaminated, however, as has much of their growing land.
The people of the Carterets have an increasing population and decreasing landmass, with inches of their island disappearing into the salty water daily. In addition to losing their homes, they fear that their culture will vanish with a move to Bougainville.
Gravgaard stressed that she wanted people to understand how climate change is affecting our natural resources now. She said that as sea level rise, refugees are created and people are forced to relocate. Her more pressing concern centers on the lack of drinking water, something that, in her opinion, industrial countries like the United States take for granted.
This is what attracted Gravgaard to India. While in Delhi, she live with a family that was considered middle class, but it did not have running water and had to awaken early to get a daily water supply from a tank truck. The government monitors the amount of water people may take into their homes. Wealthy people have more than the poor.
Wheeler has visited many schools discussing climate change. He said that when he asks students what they think of when they consider climate change most mention Greenland, melting ice sheets, polar bears, hurricanes and North Africa. He stresses that there are more issues connected to climate change that people often fail to see. Wheeler has developed a concern for South Asian countries, because he said they have "25 percent of the world's population and only 5 percent of its fresh water resources."
The growing numbers of melting glaciers are dispersing of what little water sources these people have to use.
Wheeler ended his presentation with a sobering thought.
"Climate change is an issue that touches on and brings about many issues in politics. It is a political issue and it's an economic issue. It's also an issue of social justice," Wheeler said. "It becomes an issue increasingly important in years ahead of us, and them."