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Sun Come Up, Island Go Down: The “Sinking” Carteret Islands

The documentary “Sun Come Up”  shows the environmental tragedy of the Carteret islanders in the South Pacific. The Carteret Islands are an atoll in Papua New Guinea, 85 miles from the larger island of Bougainvillea.

These easy-going and peaceful people have lived on these islands for thousands of years. They have developed a strong culture with dances, music, games, local shell money, navigation, fishing,  and agriculture. They have interacted with their environment and each other in a sustainable and peaceful way. Their island is an integral part of who they are.

However, their story has no happy ending: their island is rapidly disappearing as the sea level rises.  The ocean is eating away the shores and the large waves of salty water have killed most of their crops of taro, bananas and coconuts.  They  are facing starvation and know they will have to find a new place to live. The documentary follows  the first group of 5 families as they travel to Bougainville island , the closest neighbor, to try to find a new home.  They bring their plea  from village to village hoping to be given a piece of land to relocate, but it is not so easy. Bougainville still shows the scars of  a devastating civil war that the locals call “the Crisis”; there are armed and angry people who do not want them there. There are also many other problems they have never seen: alcoholism, prejudice, even racism,  and an economy based on money.   If they leave their island, they know their culture will be no more. They are told they will have to change their  “lazy ways” and assimilate, if they do not ” it may be trouble”.

I was born in the South Pacific, and lived the first six years of my life there. This documentary touched me in a very personal way.  I feel frustration, sadness, outrage, compassion. But  as a student I need to be unbiased in my analysis of the film. As I reflect on the concepts we explored in our Environmental Justice class,  I can see the enormous disparity in terms of distributive justice. The islanders are suffering the disproportionate impact of global warming, while they have contributed nothing to the problem. Developed nations  continue to debate, and argue at an abstract level. But for the Carteret people it is only too real. Major polluting companies trade billions in “pollution credits” in the market, but the islanders get nothing. They also seem to lack representative and procedural justice, or even recognition. They seem to have no voice in the issues that affect them, or  influence on the process and funds for relocation. Their government seemed to have no plan for them, or even recognize that there was a problem. They sent a  cargo ship with a  thousand bags of rice. But, as the woman trying to coordinate the relocation puts it, the authorities don’t know what they are doing. With the amount of money they spent on the ship and the rice, the Carteret could have bought enough land  to relocate.

With the loss of their  island they will lose much more than a home, they will lose their identity, their culture, their knowledge, their way of life, and we all will be poorer for it.

 

You can watch the trailer on YouTube  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwkw2aVohnQ

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Sun Come Up Film and Discussion Today at 6:30 O&M 112

Sun Come Up Film and Discussion Today at 6:30 O&M 112

Hey, everyone, our final environmental justice film and discussion is tonight at 6:30, O&M 112. We will meet right after the study session. The door to the right of the revolving door will be unlocked. Hope to see you all there. 

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