Students from 21 countries participating in a Global Youth Climate Summit led by Rustic and Stanford University’s Center for Deliberative Democracy tuned in from around the world to listen to a key presentation during the second week of their program. Four members of Rustic Pathways’ Fiji team shared information about their country’s environment from a coastal area that showcased one key point – the Fiji seen in travel brochures doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.
As they stood among piles of fallen tree branches and washed-in dead coral, the team gave students a glimpse of how climate change has affected Fiji and its 900,000 residents. Rustic program leader Seremaia “Jerry” Driu talked about his small village of Nabila, which is near the coast on the main island Viti Levu.
“In the year 2005 the last home was built in the village because the elders saw that the sea level has been rising, and they have come to the conclusion they have to relocate the village area,” Driu said.
The need to move villages inland is among the problems rising sea levels are causing as coastlines erode. Other challenges triggered by climate change include:
- Rising and warming sea waters are threatening coral reefs and fishing grounds.
- Drought and the salinization of groundwater are triggering water shortages.
- Food insecurity is increasing amid problems with fishing and crop production.
- Cultural heritage is being lost as villagers are forced to move from grounds that were sacred to them.
Perhaps one of the worst factors is that Fijians contribute few emissions that cause global warming, so they are suffering from a problem caused by others. This struck many of the nearly 100 students ranging in age from 12-18 who participated in the program.
After the presentation, students set out to design solutions that they hope could assist Fijians in their efforts to lessen the effects of climate change. Here are five of their ideas:
Make Seawater Drinkable
Tens of thousands of Fijians lack access to clean water in their country and the challenge gets greater each year amid droughts and salt water intrusion in groundwater. Several of the student groups looked into desalination methods as a possible way to ease this problem. They researched devices that use reverse osmosis to make water drinkable in both large quantities and smaller ones.
One group focused on creating a solution that had the added benefit of producing energy. They pitched a new wave energy technology called Wavepiston. It utilizes floating devices that are placed on the ocean’s surface. Waves move sea plates in a pushing and pulling motion that can be used to generate power.
Another group looked at a small desalination device that is cost efficient. Their research turned up a portable desalination device called QuenchSea. Salome Boseyawa, who is one of the Fiji team members, was so excited about the idea, she said she wanted one.
Collect and Save Water
Other students focused on the storage of water. Among the ideas were techniques to store rainwater and other fresh water. One group pitched using MAR systems – Managed Aquifer Recharges.
Make Living Shorelines
Easing coastal erosion would help alleviate many problems in Fiji. Several students promoted the creation of living shorelines to provide a natural solution.
One group researched mangrove trees centering on the Tiri and Dogo mangrove trees, which are native in Fiji. Tree root systems can decrease the salt concentration in groundwater, and they also help prevent erosion.
In addition, there also was a proposal to use more permeable, natural surfaces to absorb water inland.
Use Barriers to Keep Back the Water & Assist with Fishing
A number of groups looked at man-made barriers that can be used to hold back seawater or take away some of its power as it reaches the shore. This includes sea walls, sea pillars, and barrier islands.
An added benefit is that these barriers could help coral reefs from being harmed by increased sedimentation that often occurs when sea levels rise. This in turn would help the fish that rely on the reefs. Fiji fishermen would then be able to remain closer to shore to do their work.
If efforts to keep sea waters back don’t work, one student group focused on creating a floating home. They designed a prototype “lego boat” with a solar panel that can attach to other similar boats in a “lego-type” fashion to create a floating village similar to what is seen in Hong Kong.
Spread Information about the Need for Assistance
Students used their online expertise to create sample social media posts that could create awareness about the problems in Fiji. They also promoted using crowdfunding campaigns to raise money, which would be key to any work to help the island nation.
After the program concluded, some of the students immediately began to look for ways to turn their ideas into action. They are trying to find partners who may be able to help.
Mahmoud Mogawer from Cairo, Egypt is optimistic about their chances for success. He is among the students who were impacted by the enthusiasm of their peers and the common ground they found even though they come from very different backgrounds.
“I was surprised by the interest in all of us as students about the topic discussed and the ability to work together even when time, language, nation and belief divided us,” Mogawer said. “I never miss a summer camp or anything like that, but this time I miss the links and the friendships I made along the way.”
For more information on programs like this summit, please visit Rustic’s Leadership Lab program page.