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Sinking Island Highlights Effects of Climate Change

Documentaries explore lives in a warmer world

This man ponders his fate as he looks out to Huene, an island in the Carteret bisected by the sea 20 years ago.
This man ponders his fate as he looks out to Huene, an island in the Carteret bisected by the sea 20 years ago.

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Rosanne Skirble

Our planet is warming.

Average global temperatures have climbed about one degree Celsius since the last century, and at an accelerated rate in recent decades.

And scientists believe the global warming trend is responsible for an increased severity of droughts, floods, and storms across the globe, and slowly rising ocean levels.

The serious consequences of earth's changing climate are the subject of three new documentary films, funded in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Elders among the Carteret, pictured here at a relocation meeting on Piul Island, hold memories of happier days but now must seek shelter elsewhere.
Elders among the Carteret, pictured here at a relocation meeting on Piul Island, hold memories of happier days but now must seek shelter elsewhere.

Sinking island

"Sun Come Up" is the story of the Carteret Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea, where filmmaker Jennifer Redfearn says Islanders have had no choice but to move to higher ground.

"We documented some of the destruction that is happening from rising sea levels, more frequent storm surges, from the lack of fresh water sources and how the sea has contaminated some of their gardening land."

Ursula Rakova grew up on the islands. "In those times the sea wasn't as cruel as it is today, she says. By 2015 her homeland is expected to be under water." She now heads the relocation effort for 3,000 people.

Among them is Carteret elder John Sailik who laments the fate of the island chain. "When I was a little boy my very special thing was fishing with my spear on the wave. I'll be losing the wave and losing this happiness of the island. I'll be missing the sound of waves at night and I'll be listening to it no more."

"Sun Come Up" debuted at the 2010 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina. Redfearn says the Carteret islanders are among the world's first climate refugees.

The International Organization for Migration predicts the number of people displaced by rising ocean levels will grow to 200 million by 2050.

Redfearn hopes her film helps raise awareness to reverse that trend. "I want [it] to move people. I want [it] to either make them angry, make them sad, make them frustrated, and I want to take that anger and that frustration and that sadness and turn that into action."

First victims of climate change

"Water Wars" was produced by the Seattle-based Common Language Project.

Springs are drying out from the drought in Southern Ethiopia forcing pastoralists to push their cattle long distances for scarce resources.
Springs are drying out from the drought in Southern Ethiopia forcing pastoralists to push their cattle long distances for scarce resources.

The film takes a closer look at water scarcity in Southern Ethiopia and the drought that has left farms there without any irrigation supply. Herders are forced to shepherd their animals longer distances for water.

Neighbors compete for the same scarce resource, says Jon Sawyer, director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the group that brought "Water Wars" to the 2010 Environmental Film Festival in Washington.

"[We're] really looking at how pastoralists are among the first victims of global climate change, and what that's doing to their way of life and the possibility of conflict as a result," he says.

"Water Wars" joins the pastoralists in a stark landscape of dead grasses, arid plants and dust. Experts predict droughts will get worse with climate change, and that poor countries like Ethiopia will be hardest hit.

Solar-powered school boats

The third film, "Easy Like Water" documents the water crisis in Bangladesh.

The small South Asian nation of 150 million people on the coast of the Bay of Bengal has been facing increasingly intense floods and storms.

Filmmaker Glenn Baker envisions entire communities that will one day have to float as they adapt to climate change.
Filmmaker Glenn Baker envisions entire communities that will one day have to float as they adapt to climate change.

We learn about this growing crisis from architect Mohammed Rezwan, who has built a fleet of solar-powered, internet-connected school boats."I believe that if children cannot come to school then the school should go to them."

Flooded roads can shut down schools up to four months a year.

Filmmaker Glenn Baker says the solar-powered boats help bridge the education gap and also meet other community needs. "It's not only floating schools that he's making a difference with. He has floating libraries, floating clinics, floating climate shelters, floating gardens.

He envisions entire communities that will have to float. "Now, I'm not saying that this is the only answer to climate change, but it is people taking one adaptive strategy, doing what they have to do to survive," says Baker.

All three documentaries - "Easy Like Water," "Water Wars" and "Sun Come Up" - were supported in part by The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Center director Jon Sawyer hopes they will stir greater public activism on climate change and water issues.

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