This past week I visited the Pacific Worlds Exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California! If you’re local, definitely check it out. It runs into January of 2016 and it’s as cool as the BART ads make it look.


Remember that environmental issues are social issues #motherearth #motherocean

A photo posted by Jessi Lawrence (@jusslaww) on


The exhibit positions California as a neighbor to the Pacific Islands & holistically represents that relationship – from colonialism, to the cultures thriving here now as a result of the diaspora.


“Celebrating the vibrant historic and cultural relationships, past and present, between the Pacific Islands and California, Pacific Worlds examines the deep and many-layered histories of this region’s interactions with the Pacific, and explores the on-going connections between Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians, along with Filipinos, Native Californians, and American collectors and colonists.” –OMCA Website


But what was most striking to me about the exhibit was the attention payed to the role of climate change in Pacific Islander culture. The ocean is a integral part of these peoples’ histories and heritage, and their art and lifestyles today.

In the late 1940s, the US used the Marshall Islands as a Nuclear testing site for some of the first atomic weaponry. The testing resulted in a good deal of nuclear fallout, which was obviously not awesome for a lot of reasons, both in terms of human and earth/ocean health. Pacific Islander activists were able to prevent further nuclear testing and received some reparations, but the radiation from that first round of testing still lingers in the ecosystem, basically rendering the Bikini Atoll unlivable for those who called it home.

Today, the ocean is absorbing our CO2 emissions, covering our butts by slowing the affects of climate change. But volunteering as the world’s largest carbon sink has consequences too. As the ocean absorbs these massive amounts of excess CO2, chemistry happens and the acidity of the water increases. This does things, including making the water too acidic for marine life. Besides that being totally freaky for the fish, this means that the ecosystem the Pacific Island people rely on is dying.

Fighting ocean acidification isn’t just about preserving pretty nature. The entire heritage, livelihood, and culture of these people relies on the health of the ocean. This is a social issue, it’s neocolonial: “the economic and political policies by which a great power indirectly maintains or extends its influence over other areas or people [x]” Financial reparations will always be too little too late.


Written by Jessi Lawrence

Jessi's greatest dream is to start an LGBT bicycle gang called "Mermaids on Bikes." She is a ~recent graduate~ of Smith College w/ an experiential major in being militant about her beliefs. She's vegan, particularly cares about the intersection of social & environmental issues, & has feelings about it.

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