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Having Lived in the Marshall Islands, I Understand Greta’s Concerns

(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

In 2016, fleeing Venezuela’s socialism, I took a teaching job in Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.”

Following her much-publicized United Nations speech, Greta Thunberg has been mocked, diagnosed in absentia with mental disorders, and compared to the poster girls of Nazism. Let us leave this child alone and allow her to enjoy her fifteen minutes of fame. After all, when she becomes an adult and loses her juvenile charm, she will likely fall into oblivion, though, of course, the ideology of her sponsors will persist, and they will then launch another young girl to be their mouthpiece. 

So, instead of throwing low blows at poor Greta, I’ll instead share my experiences living in the Marshall Islands, perhaps the country that has suffered the most as a result of global warming. In 2016, fleeing Venezuela’s socialism, I took a teaching job in Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Upon arrival, I immediately realized that even with Maduro’s dictatorship, Venezuela is not such a bad place, compared to Majuro, that is. I have travelled quite a bit, and I can safely say that Majuro is the ugliest place I have ever visited. Not for nothing, it is called the “Garbage Dump of the Pacific.” The amount of trash is overwhelming; it is all over the place. Stray dogs are everywhere and fierce. The Internet is terrible. Power goes off frequently. Buildings (if you can even call them that) are succumbing to rust. You cannot run away from the flies, which are everywhere. Occasionally, there are floods due to the rising sea levels, and, consequently, corpses from graveyards close to the sea end up floating by the shore. If you travel too far away from Majuro to other islands in the country, such as Bikini, you will be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. (The United States nuked the bejeezus out of those God-forsaken places during the 1940’s and 1950’s.) You get the picture; perhaps the welcoming sign in Amata Kabua International Airport, apart from Yakwe! (“hello” in Marshallese), should be Dante’s infamous, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” 

I promised not to take low blows at Greta, but I can’t help agreeing with one particular charge: this girl is angry, yet immensely privileged. Real victims, such as the Marshallese, are not particularly angry, even though, of all countries, theirs is the most likely to be swallowed by the sea.

Yet despite all this hardship, the Marshallese always have a smile on their faces. I promised not to take low blows at Greta, but I can’t help agreeing with one particular charge: this girl is angry, yet immensely privileged. Real victims, such as the Marshallese, are not particularly angry, even though, of all countries, theirs is the most likely to be swallowed by the sea. But nobody gives a damn about them; it is more trendy for a millionaire to finance a cutie in a fancy yacht, than to let real victims speak. Social Justice Warriors, please take note: now is the perfect time to talk about white privilege; sadly, your silence is deafening.

The Marshallese themselves are aware of how this game is played. With an unemployment rate in the ballpark of 35%, they desperately seek a way out. Many are now in Arkansas, working for Tyson Foods earning minimum wage. But, that is a grim prospect. Global warming activism provides better opportunities. Some Marshallese have come to understand that being vocal about global warming can put them in the spotlight, and hopefully will enable them to earn the patronage of some self-proclaimed “eco-friendly” millionaire, and consequently become as privileged as Greta, seizing the opportunity to leave the “Garbage Dump of the Pacific” for good.

But, who gets to be an activist? Predictably, this is only for the privileged few. The Marshall Islands is basically a feudal society. Local chiefs, known as iroijs, get all sorts of privileges from the commoners. (J.G. Frazer, the famous anthropologist, even claimed that Marshallese chiefs had the “right of the first night” not so long ago, though this is doubtful). So, in order to achieve a high profile as climate change activist, you need to come from an important clan and have connections based on your birth. Thus, you won’t find betel nut-chewing (and often overweight) Islanders giving speeches at the United Nations about what it is like to have the body of your grandfather washed away from the cemetery by the Pacific waves. Instead, you will see American-educated snobs recite poems about the evils of carbon emissions but drive big cars on a tiny island; you will see these people tell the regular Marshallese people not to abandon their country, but those who tell them this live in big houses in Hawaii or Oregon.

The main source of revenue for the Marshall Islands comes from American subsidies, in the form of lease money for the use of the Kwajalein military base, along with compensation for the brutal nuclear tests. Most of this money does not go to the government but to the iroijs themselves. Predictably, corruption is rampant. With the amount of money that goes into the Marshall Islands, the place should be something like Mr. Roarke and Tattoo’s home from the 1980’s show; instead, it resembles far more what President Donald Trump had in mind when he infamously called some countries“s-holes.” Occasionally, American officials press a bit harder, inquiring where the money goes. That is the moment when iroijs and their sponsored activists pull out the climate-change card and shame the American imperialists into silence: by reminding them how savage the Bikini nukes were—and how water levels are rising.

Although the effects of climate change are indisputably felt in the Marshall Islands, I did not find it was the most pressing concern for most Marshallese people. They are more worried about the lack of electricity, bad Internet, water sanitation, a less-than-functional hospital in Majuro, malaria, dengue, poor housing. As Bjorn Lomborg frequently argues, these are the things that most Third World people care about most. Global warming is actually quite low on their list of priorities. But, given that the iroijs and their relatives already have all those problems sorted out, they would prefer to focus on global warming. This also allows them to bypass their failure in addressing the real issues, which partly come as a result of their own corruption.

If global warming activists had it their way, these problems would be worse. For, the solutions to malaria, poor sanitation and electric blackouts, require more energy consumption, not less. In the case of the Marshall Islands, this is even more the case. In an economy that depends so heavily on American investments, guess what would happen if the American economy becomes zealously eco-friendly and slows down? Less money will be poured into the Marshallese economy, and things will get worse.

Charlton Heston seemed to believe that all things in the world have to do with rifles and gun control; likewise, Greta seems to think that global warming is the sole problem humanity faces. This is monomania.

Again, it is a cheap shot to try to discredit Greta because she has Asperger’s syndrome. But, as far as I can tell, many climate change activists do engage in what psychiatrists call “monomania.” This is a single pathological, obsessive preoccupation with a single idea in an otherwise sound mind. Charlton Heston seemed to believe that all things in the world have to do with rifles and gun control; likewise, Greta seems to think that global warming is the sole problem humanity faces. This is monomania. As Lomborg reminds us, global warming is real (no, he is not a climate change denier), but it is far from being the most urgent problem in the world. So, we need to get our priorities right. There are more important things to take care of right now, and if we obsess with trying to bring down the global temperature by using the proposed methods of activists (basically, slowing down economies), we will actually lower the well-being of millions of people in the Third World, who desperately need booming economies in order to take care of their most urgent needs. Global warming can wait. Or, as Lomborg nicely observes, the solution to global warming can only be long-term; instead of financing emotional teenagers who just repeat clichés, multimillionaires need to massively sponsor research that finds ways to make efficient use of energy, without having to slow down economies.

Dr. Gabriel Andrade teaches ethics and behavioral science at Ajman University, United Arab Emirates. He has previously contributed to Areo Magazine and DePauw University’s The Prindle Post. 

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Koriinjinõm
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Koriinjinõm

What the heck !!! You’re just an idiot why would you say those words about our homes and the people living there? Our islands have been destroyed because of you guys 😡😡😡 American people destroy it long long time ago ! We have welcomed you and then you just came and then go out to spread out to the world that our homes is the ugliest place ever how dare you say that !!!

Danny
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Danny

But it’s true lol

Laton
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Laton

Just because we smile, it doesn’t mean we don’t care. However, All things are in Gods Hand!

Josie
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Josie

What a horrible way to describe someone else’s home.

Larry Bud
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Larry Bud

Having lived in the Marshall Islands myself for over 3 years I agree wholeheartedly with Dr Andrade’s view. Being on Kwajalein as a contracted civil engineer and working with “lower caste” laborer who I got to know well and live, the place is over populated and lacks the resources to sustain the population. While not minimizing the global warming problem there is also a geological issue with subduction. Geologically, these are the reminates of 40 million year old volcanic island. Kwajalein at one time was as big as the Big Island of Hawaii. Over the 40 million years the volcanic… Read more »