January 1st is always a day that carries special symbolism. It is a celebration across the world that is profoundly meaningful. It is when we reflect on the past year and decide for ourselves what we would like to take with us moving forward, and what we will be leaving behind.
In this time of reflection, we also make resolutions for ourselves. We make firm decisions to change undesired traits or behaviors in order to improve our lives. During this time of reflection, perhaps we should also take time to acknowledge the ancient Chamorro people and all of their efforts in shaping Guam and the Marianas into what it is today.
Four thousand years ago Guam was inhabited by the ancient Chamorro people. They laid the groundwork for a developing society by using stone and shell tools to clear the land and cultivate food. They relied on marine life for sustenance which was abundant because of the protected lagoon, reefs and open ocean. As they became more developed and their population increased, they developed social classes which helped determine who had access to land and fishing ground. They survived drought, volcanic activity and frequent typhoons that made living on Guam precarious and even dangerous at times. The latte stones that were built and left behind are reminders of the ancient Chamorro people and their tenacity to survive and settle on our beautiful island.
Today, we respect the ancient ancestors of this island by asking permission before we enter the jungle or anywhere sacred. We honor them by protecting the ancient latte stones and preserving places like Ritidian (Litekyan). Yet, we allow our waters to become polluted, our reefs to be destroyed and our land to be used as a trash can. Why? Why isn’t there more of a climate conscious movement on Guam when we are so high risk to global warming, rising sea levels, destructive storms and mass flooding? Why are we allowing this to happen? If another country came here, poisoned our waters and destroyed our land, we would go to war. We would rise together as an island nation and fight for our common home. We would fight for our land that the ancient Chamorro settled.
I use the term “we” loosely as I am not trying to downplay any efforts made by organizations on island making efforts to become more environmentally sound. However, humanity- not just Guam, lacks a sense of oneness. We divide ourselves and put up borders to those who are different from us when we should be coming together during this humanitarian crisis. Often times, people feel so disenfranchised from a topic so big as climate change which is understandable. We leave these issues to the hands of our government and entrust in the system and policy making to resolve it. But unfortunately, this has gone beyond that.
Climate change is now affecting millions of people worldwide and if we don’t step up and raise our voice, this will likely worsen. Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts recently published a study regarding climate change and the impacts to economic well-being. In this study, they found a link between extreme heat and sleep loss, kidney stones, low birth weight, violence and suicide. Lead author Philip Duffy and his colleagues also said, “new evidence about the extent, severity, and interconnectedness of impacts detected to date and projected for the future reinforces the case that climate change may reasonably be anticipated to endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations.”
The ancient Chamorro people not only survived but prospered in spite of the perilous conditions they were faced with. They laid the groundwork for future generations to come and build upon it. They thought about us. So, don’t we have a moral obligation and civic duty to do the same thing for future generations? Don’t we owe it to this island, our families, the people who live here, to leave this island better than how we found it? Regardless of your personal views on climate change, wouldn’t you rather breathe in cleaner air and live somewhere free of pollution?
This is no longer up to the hands of our government to solve. This is a humanitarian catastrophe that demands immediate action from us or life as we know it will change drastically. Onward then, let’s enter the inferno together.
Michelle Voacolo is a climate change specialist at Micronesia Climate Change Alliance, and energy solutions advisor for Micronesia Renewable Energy. Send feedback firstname.lastname@example.org