Amusing ourselves to death / 24 October 2011
The 2011 Rugby World Cup held here in New Zealand has made headlines continuously during the event, and many months prior. Preceding the start, the entire country was readying itself to showcase the splendour of what the environment has to offer, and culture has to give. Everything about rugby dominated the news, TV, and internet. And just about everywhere one went, the conversation was about rugby. To give an example, I watched a news interview of someone who had the job of painting stripes on a sidewalk. Only, these stripes were important because they were specifically for the Rugby World Cup.
Little did many people know that the very same week of the opening of the Rugby World Cup, another event was being held at the same time – in the same place: The Pacific Islands Forum, 2011. It was here that something far more important was happening. Kiribati President, Anote Tong, delivered a message that he’s been spreading for the eight years he’s been the country’s leader – that the seas are rising; His country and his people’s way of life are threatened by the increasing tides. It’s the same story, yet, there seemed to be a shift in his message. The main message was less observational in what happening in Kiribati and what we need to do to change our ways to stop it. We know all of that information already. Instead, it was a sobering analysis of options for when the tides get too high.
On his way to the forum in Auckland, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon made a stopover in Kiribati to see the plight of the country first-hand. He visited Beka Ni Koora, a village that has already relocated its homes and people because of the rising sea levels. Here, the village struggles to obtain enough freshwater resources, and consequently, food.
Clearly, Tong’s message has reached some very influential leaders. Unfortunately, however, money seems to speak louder than words and we cannot talk ourselves out of this problem. A 2009 estimate to protect Kiribati’s core infrastructure put the bill at just under $1 billion dollars. According to Tong, they might – might - have just enough money to finish one seawall. The leading option for Kiribati is to seek asylum in countries like Australia and New Zealand. When asked if his country has been offered land, Tong movingly stated: "Well, isn't that the question. I think I've always appealed to the morality of humanity. And we are challenging humanity to answer that question."
I’d like to think that people care more about the plight of a nation than of rugby – that perhaps if a little more coverage of the Pacific Islands Forum occurred (i.e. at the very least, taking over the paint stripe segment) then people would at least become a bit more aware. It’s easy to watch rugby or that of any other entertaining item where we can switch off a good portion of our brains. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman stated that television as a form of entertainment is a passive activity whereby no form of actual intellectual involvement is required. Further, because passive entertainment dominates the ratings (and therefore the pocketbooks of the network), it leaves little room for more intellectual, informative programs. Doing the right thing is not always easy, but if we want to make positive changes for our future, we will have to take action and not stand by idly or relinquish our brains to continuous passive entertainment.
I don’t mean give up Rugby or our favourite sitcoms on TV – I’ve certainly enjoyed catching some of the rugby games when I can and definitely enjoyed the exciting final with the All Blacks taking the Cup – but we need to perhaps put in a little more effort to not only keep informed, but do what we can with the resources we each have so that the plight of a nation isn’t overshadowed by who makes the starting line up of the All Blacks and the volume of paint needed for a particular section of sidewalk.
To learn a little more of how the rising sea levels affect Pacific Island communities, please check out the film trailer for the documentary “There Once Was an Island”. Our sister organization, Okeanos Foundation, also stores some great articles on marine conservation and climate change written by noteworthy scientists, and they will continue to add to their resources. And please, use your resources – share this on your facebook sites to educate others. One of our best assets we have is knowledge. Let’s spread this around so we can all then take action in the best way each of us individuals have the ability to do so!