Aerial view of Kiribati
An aerial view of Kiribati. Courtesy U.S. State Department

 The former president of a Pacific Island nation that is destined to disappear within decades due to rising sea levels caused by climate change will be the keynote speaker during MiraCosta College’s Earth Day events this week.

Anote Tong, the former president of Kiribati, will take part in an Q&A forum and discussion via Zoom at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Tong is featured in a 2018 documentary, “Anote’s Ark,” that details his efforts to raise international awareness of his nation’s plight and the future of its more than 100,000 residents. The United Nations projects that rising sea levels will submerge the small island nation that sits literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Two smaller uninhabited islands already disappeared under water in 1999.

Plans for the Earth Day event evolved after MiraCosta College rugby coach and MANA program counselor and coordinator Keli Ross-Ma’u was setting up a program of speakers for MANA — a program that builds community among Pacific Islander students. The MANA students watched Anote’s Ark last fall and Ross- Ma’u was encouraged to approach the former president about setting up a speaking engagement.

“I reached out to him not expecting a reply, but he replied and said he was busy at the moment but would get back to me in January, and I’m like, Okay!,” said Ross-Ma’u, also known as Coach Keli.

The former Kiribati president contacted Ross-Ma’u in January and the two met via Zoom the following month. With Earth Day coming up, Ross-Ma’u said it only made sense to see if Anote could speak at that time. The former president quickly agreed.

“His point is that climate change is real and it may be past the point of no return for his country, but he wants to spread awareness about the issue and do what he can to stop this from impacting other nations,” Ross-Ma’u said.

“If this was happening to us, how would we feel?” he added. “How would we react? There will be a point of no return for other nations in the world that aren’t sitting out in the middle of the Pacific. We need to take action before we reach that point.”

The event, “Fighting High Tides,” is free and open to the public. Register at CorT4jGtBOfFaCbxV_n6nGlMx1tquS.

Anote isn’t the only speaker during what is turning into an Earth Week. Climate scientist Richard Somerville, a distinguished professor emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and poet and Pacific Islander/Guam native Craig Santos Perez are both scheduled to speak during the week.

–City News Service