Climate Change Threatens the Javanese Way of Life


by Blaine Williams

In the face of climate change and rising sea levels, atolls––rings of islands formed by coral reefs––are some of the most vulnerable human-inhabited regions. In the atoll of Ontong Java, the world’s largest atoll, climate change has begun to affect the quality of life for the locals, and will create more hardship in the years to come. The highest point of the Ontong Java atoll is 10 feet above sea level, and with sea levels rising at a rate of a few millimeters a year, the islands are losing more and more land to the ocean. Faced with issues such as irregular weather patterns and imminent land loss, a key struggle for the inhabitants of Ontong Java is adapting to these changes and attempting to take them in stride. The society of the islands is rural, and much of the population is uneducated and illiterate. In fact, it took many years after they had begun to experience the effects of climate change for the inhabitants of the region to get word of what was producing the unusual patterns in the weather that were affecting their lifestyles and their livelihoods. As a result, it is difficult for a concerted community-led effort for spreading awareness and knowledge about the issue of sea levels and their adverse effects to take hold and make headway. Overall, those involved in Javanese efforts to address climate change have put their efforts in to moving forward and attempting to prepare for what lies ahead as opposed to pointing fingers at the rest of the world and blaming it for the precarious position in which the Javanese now find themselves. A pressing issue for survival for the Javanese and for other communities residing on such low-lying land is dealing with saltwater. When it creeps into water supplies––which will occur with increasing frequency as sea levels rise and saturate the ground––saltwater wreaks havoc, killing crops and rendering drinking water unsafe for human consumption. To combat this, leaders in Ontong Java made efforts to introduce saltwater-resistant crops to the existing local harvests. Efforts on behalf of the atoll, as well as other island communities, have also been made internationally. The Javanese had representatives at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015, where they discussed issues and brainstormed with policymakers, leaders in the field of climate change, and representatives from other affected communities. However, despite their best efforts, Javanese environmental leaders acknowledge that the effects of climate change and the toll they will take on the island communities are inevitable given the extent to which global climate change has progressed at this point. Therefore, they are preparing for the inevitable: displacement and relocation. The people of Ontong Java will be forced to find new lands to occupy, and will also need to fight to balance maintaining their cultural values and history with displacement from the place that has shaped and molded their culture and ideology for generations.

Barbalato, K. (2016, January 29). As Rising Seas Force Exile, Islanders Hold Fast to What Matters Most.

Their #islands are a max 10ft above sea level; how are the #Javanese coping w/ rising oceans? #ClimateChange #SeaLevel #COP21

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