Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about an issue of global importance on the same day (Monday, October 15). It’s an opportunity to witness the power of participatory journalism marshaled toward a common cause. The aim is to raise awareness and trigger a worldwide discussion.
This is my fourth Blog Action Day: For 2011 the issue was Food; in 2010 it was Water; and in 2009 it was Climate Change.
The theme this year is “The Power of We.” It is intended to be a celebration of people working together to make a positive difference in the world, either for their own communities or for people they will never meet half way around the world. I’ve decided to profile a friend of mine who is doing what she can to make a difference.
Brook Meakins is an attorney with a solo practice in Berkeley, CA providing advocacy services for her clients.(1) While she is committed to conflict resolution and everyday justice for her Bay area neighbors, Brook's true passion is fighting on behalf of the global community.
After a near-death experience in the Pacific Ocean in 2010, Brook had an epiphany about the struggle and the imminent threat that people who occupy low-lying islands live with everyday. Some leaders in these low-lying countries now refer to climate change as a "slow-moving tsunami," or use descriptive words like drowning or disappearing. People in coastal communities have a special, very vulnerable relationship with the water. Climate change threatens to wipe out these timeless places, as well as the people who call these islands home.
Brook now spends a significant amount of her time listening and learning from those in climate-threatened communities, and then sounding the alarm about their plight and telling their stories. She has conducted fact-finding and personal story-gathering missions in countries all over the world, including the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, San Blas Archipelago in Panama, Fiji, Tuvalu, and Kiribati. She has partnered with these communities to fight global warming and to build awareness around the threat to their existence.
Brook with a member of the Kuna tribe on the San Blas Archipelago, Panama (photo courtesy of Brook Meakins)
The impact of climate change upon the people who live among the low-lying coral atoll island nations is imminent and devastating. These coral atolls lie only a few feet above the sea, rendering them vulnerable to intensifying storm surges, spoiled or depleted fresh water and food reserves, ocean acidification, an ever-lengthening dry season, and an increasingly extreme wet season. Brook asks “what happens to a country if the entirety of its landmass slips below the water?”
Rising seas have already swallowed up two uninhabited islands in the Central Pacific. On Samoa, thousands of residents have moved to higher ground as shorelines have retreated by as much as 160 feet. Islanders on Tuvalu are scrambling to find new homes as saltwater intrusion has made their groundwater undrinkable, while increasingly strong storm surges and ocean swells have devastated shoreline structures and ecosystems.
Other communities around the world, including low-lying coastal or riverside communities in the Arctic, Caribbean, Pacific, and in Bangladesh, face seemingly impossible-to-answer questions: How will these communities cope with the intensifying effects of flooding and erosion? Who pays for the increasing weather-related disasters? Where will people move if they are left with no choice but to leave their homes? Why does climate change deal its toughest blows to those that contribute to it the least?
As Brook points out, the low-lying islands are the canaries in the coal mine for what is to come. We can no longer pretend that we will forever be immune to what is happening to our neighbors. For many people, the effects are here and now. Climate change is far from hypothetical or tomorrow’s problem. It is no longer an issue for the next generation to solve.
Brook provides research and litigation support through pro bono humanitarian-focused representation to severe climate-impacted countries. Having organized and participated in several environmental law conferences, she is actively involved in bringing together the world’s leading environmental scholars in an effort to generate well-integrated and long-term solutions.
Brook also is enthusiastically and creatively committed to giving a voice to those on the front lines of climate change. As I mentioned, she has traveled widely to listen and learn from those most affected. Through her blog, Drowning Islands, Brook tells their stories, presenting firsthand accounts of lives on the edge. Additionally, she has written for the Huffington Post, Salon, AlterNet, and other online news and commentary outlets. She hopes her advocacy will raise awareness, particularly among people who can help those threatened by rising sea levels.
Coral atoll, Maldives (photo by Brook Meakins)
Brook believes she has been fortunate to walk among the residents of the drowning islands. She has continually been struck by their lack of blame and their sense of hope. They do not point fingers at Westerners, nor do they ask why we continue emitting greenhouse gases while knowingly warming the earth and hastening sea level rise. They do not talk of relocation funds or lawsuits. Instead, they simply want to share their stories with her and the appreciation they have for the land they inherited. They gently remind her that this is not just an island problem, but a global issue, as nothing is immune to the ocean.
For my part, I’ve previously blogged about the climate change crisis. As an architect, I know my profession has a part to play. We will increasingly design adaptive environments capable of mitigating the accelerating impacts of rising temperatures and coastlines. We’re on the vanguard of awareness about the strategies necessary to reduce our carbon footprint. We have a leadership role to play. We must also learn from the efforts of truly committed individuals like Brook if we are to effect real change.
Knowledge is priceless. The Power of We includes the sharing of knowledge with a wide audience in the service of a greater good. Brook Meakins is making a difference by leveraging the potential of the Internet and social media to spread the story of the drowning islands. Doing so, she is chronicling the plight of those most immediately impacted by climate change.
(1) Brook received her Juris Doctor degree from the School of Law at the University of Oregon, which is widely known for its environmental law program. Her husband, Andy, worked with me at Robertson/Sherwood/Architects.