Youth activists turn anger into action on climate

Two climate activists say their first exposure to the impact of climate change on their homes first made them sad.

But it also motivated them.

At a session for children and youth on access to justice for the impacts of climate change on their future, the Samoa Observer sat down with Okalani Mariner and Solomon Yeo to talk about what motivates their climate activism.

Ms. Mariner, National University of Samoa student and former president of her high school’s Environment Club at Robert Louis Stevenson College, said in the beginning, learning about sea level rises, coastal erosion and the impacts of temperature rises on sea life made her deeply sad.

“It does change the way you think. For me, I struggled with mental health for the longest time,” she said.

“Why would I bring children into a world that is dying? What do I have left to give? What is the point in living if the earth is going to die?”

She was in Year 10, when an American educator visited their school to teach about plastic pollution and the acidification of the ocean. Learning about the rapid changes to the sea opened her eyes to something she had not thought about before, she said.

Finally, on a family trip to Salelologa in Savaii, she saw her family land being eaten away by the rising tide.

“Growing up on a piece of land surrounded by ocean, the ocean is a part of you. It is so closely attached to my identity that having it threatened was scary for me,” she said. 

“For me it’s about legacy. I want my children to see where they are from and if the sea level continues to rise and climate change continues to happen, they won’t have an island to call home. 

“For me personally I am fighting not just for my island but for my people, my culture, my home, my children.”

Solomon Yeo is a recent graduate of University of the South Pacific, where he studied law. He is a founding member and President of the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change which is a group of law students from the region.

They are currently campaigning for an urgent advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change and human rights.

Mr. Yeo, who grew up in the Solomon Islands said he became angry and frustrated as he watched climate change affect his, and other people’s homes and livelihoods.

“Knowing you really want to help them, you feel powerless […] That got me really inspired to take these things up,” he said. 

“We do what we do not just because we want to do it, but to fight for our survival.”

Like Ms. Mariner, he said feeling helpless sometimes takes over though he tries to stay positive.

“If there was no climate change I would be happier, I would be doing what I love, I would be farming. Knowing your people are affected, that things are changing around you, of course it affects you.

“I don’t tend to focus on that feeling of powerlessness but more what am I going to do about it. It gives that hope.”

He said watching and working with other young people on climate justice helps too. 

During his week in Samoa meeting other like minded peers gives him hope that the Pacific will continue to be well represented on a problem that disproportionately affects them. 

“It brings me so much hope,” he said. 

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