According to recent studies, the sea level is 5 to 8 inches (13-20 centimeters) higher on average than it was in 1900. This rapid acceleration of rising sea levels is directly proportional to global warming and the melting of glaciers. Correspondingly, the people who would face the brunt of such phenomena are coastal communities and islands.
Poet and performance artist Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner recognizes the threat of rising sea levels brought by climate change in her hometown, in the Marshall Islands, and in her local community.
She shares primary accounts of her culture and the issues faced by her community as they navigate the world in the 21st century through poetry and media. Some of the themes she addresses include nuclear testing conducted in the Marshall Islands, militarism and the rising sea level.
When asked about her motivations behind her work, she responded, “The experience of having islands vaporized, or made too deadly to live on, has given Marshallese people a sense of urgency about climate change.”
The problem occurring in the Marshall Islands is not an isolated case — several islands are facing the threat of extinction because of rising sea levels. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on Climate Action recognizes this issue and aims to integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning.
In her poem, “Dear Matafele Peinem”, which she dedicates to her daughter, Jetn̄il-Kijiner talks about the different people who are fighting for themselves and their future. Her poem is an ode of reassurance and hope that the sea would not swallow the Marshall Islands alive, and that the inhabitants would not be driven out of their homes.
In 2017, Jetn̄il-Kijiner published a book of poetry called Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter that explores generational trauma caused by nuclear testing, colonialism, racism and migration.
Additionally, she is also a co-founder of a nonprofit organization called Jo-Jikum (Jodrikdrik in Jipan ene eo e Kutok Maroro) that encourages Marshallese youth to proactively tackle the climate crisis and its effects on the Marshall Islands.
Her active involvement in raising the issues in her community is a reflection of her dedication and love for the Marshall Islands. Although this line of work is physically and mentally taxing, Jetn̄il-Kijiner continues to ardently fight for the causes she believes in, as this is not just for her, but also for the future generations.
“This fight isn’t something that’s gonna be solved overnight, and I know that they fought their whole lives. And so for me, with my work, I don’t see it as an option to stop, and I don’t see it as an option to get burned out,” Jetn̄il-Kijiner said.
For more information, you can visit her blog here.