With the threat of rising sea levels, the people of Kiribati, a nation on an island in the pacific ocean, are attempting to relocate with pride. Susie Crate, an anthropologist who came to speak at the university’s Kirkbride Lecture Hall on Thursday, has focused her research on this topic.
After a showing of the film “The Anthropologist,” which Crate was featured in, she answered questions from the audience and addressed issues such as climate change and its global and human impact.
“It is true that many of the people who are most impacted are living in what would be called marginal areas of the world,” Crate said. “They’re also places where in order to live there you have to have this very intimate bond with the natural world.”
She explained that there is an “imbalance” between countries. She also said that most of the places that are experiencing the worst of the effects of climate change are not the countries with significant carbon footprints.
She stressed that, although climate change is global, it does not impact the world in a homogenous way.
“In some places it’s getting cooler, in some places it’s getting a lot warmer and in some places the sea level is rising more than in others,” Crate said. “That’s why some people wanted to call it ‘global weirding’ instead of climate change. That’s really what is happening.”
Crate’s daughter, Katie Yegorov-Crate, explained this briefly in the documentary. She argued that the phrase “global warming” insinuates that the world is exclusively warming when in actuality it is more complex than that.
Crate and her daughter spent time in the country of Kiribati, where they stood waist deep in water that overtook what was at one point the most populous area of the island.
This particular scene of the documentary stood out to senior Francis Mahon. He expressed interest in the fact that houses and land were once there but, because of the rising sea levels, do not exist anymore.
“They’re going to have to move,” Crate said. “Most of the island natives in the Pacific are facing that reality.”
As the people “relocate with pride” the goal is to eventually relocate as many Kiribati citizens as possible to land in Fiji while still maintaining their culture, Crate explained. The only other option, she said, was to relocate individually and risk assimilation that could lead to losing Kiribati’s language and traditions.
Crate’s primary task as an anthropologist has been to listen and interview, concentrating mostly on the effects of climate change. She has traveled around the world and observed various countries in an attempt to see what exactly is happening globally and how people feel about the changes occurring.
She argues that this is important because the science behind climate change can often be difficult to comprehend. Through real life examples, shown in photographs, videos and interviews, people who might not be as affected by how the earth has evolved can understand its impact.
Anthropology, Crate explained, is strongly connected to activism in this way. She firmly disagrees with those who believe that anthropologists should be “objective.”
“You get involved in people’s lives and in the process of working with people, you learn about something that is just horrific,” she said. “It comes down to an ethical thing for you.”
“I thought it was great how Susie Crate was talking about how when you’re doing this research you start to gain empathy with the people that you’re researching,” Savannah Kruguer, a junior and anthropologist major, said. “It’s inevitable that you’re going to be an activist about these kinds of things.”
Crate said that “[anthropologists] are not trying to influence people.” Instead, their goal is just to understand and explain a particular culture.
Instead of attempting to persuade, Crate adapted a different style of teaching. She would provide students with information and allow them to come to their own conclusions.
“We have limited time and energy, so we need to put our energy and our understanding into those who are ready to hear it,” Crate said.
Since the release of “The Anthropologist” in 2015, Crate has been working in Mongolia. She called herself “optimistic” and hopes that eventually the things that need to be done for the planet will get done. In particular, Crate mentioned the importance of thinking about our “food systems, ecosystems and water systems.”
“There’s a lot of things that need to be done but there’s also a lot of work being done,” she said. “You don’t need to look far to find it.”