Climate Warrior: ‘It’s scary … you’ve seen what they do to activists’

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Koreti Tiumalu describes spending time praying in the Vatican – before the COP21 Paris conference in November – on mats depicting stories from Pacific communities affected by climate change as wanting to “get right spiritually”. Image: Eco Watch 350.org

By Thomas Leaycraft of Scoop

Praying for action on climate change and a kava ceremony in the heart of the Catholic Church were all part of the journey leading up to last year’s momentous COP21 Paris climate change talks, says the leader of the Pacific Climate Warriors.

Koreti Tiumalu told the In the Eye of the Storm climate change conference that she had seen many strange things in her life as an environmental activist.

A mother and former public servant, Tiumalu abandoned a life of financial stability to pursue a career as an activist when the Climate Warriors offered her a part-time position.

In the eye of The Storm logoMinimal hours and pay forced her to make sacrifices such as selling her house and car.

The group comprises activists from 15 countries who have taken action regionally and across the world to combat climate change.

They were perhaps best known for using canoes in an attempt to prevent Australian coal ships from leaving port, she said.

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Tiumalu said that those involved had wrongly believed that the police would protect their demonstration, when in fact police in speedboats and jet skis quickly broke through their makeshift blockade. However, the stunt garnered plenty of attention and support for the Climate Warriors.

Koreti Tiumalu ... "empowering our young people to be leaders". Image: 350.org
Koreti Tiumalu … “empowering our young people to be leaders”. Image: 350.org

In her speech, Tiumalu described spending time praying in the Vatican – before the Paris conference in November – on mats depicting stories from Pacific communities affected by climate change. She had wanted to “get right spiritually” before the conference.

The Climate Warriors also hosted the “first ever kava ceremony in the Vatican” with supportive Pacific island priests.

In the coming weeks, Tiumalu said the group would determine “what the Pacific Climate Warriors are going to look like over the next three years”.

She often worries about the future: “I’m nervous, it’s scary. You’ve seen the pictures of what they do to activists. But it’s not something we can afford not to do.”

She hoped that more young activists and public figures, like the Australian former rugby league star and American football running back Jarryd Hayne, would take interest in the Climate Warriors.

“That’s the other thing we need to do – empower our young people to be leaders.”

Tiumalu said her organisation appealed to the younger generation because of its noble cause and exciting work environment.

“We’ve got to have as much fun as we can … But we work hard and we love hard.”

Thomas Leaycraft is a Scoop student journalist intern covering the In the Eye of the Storm conference for Scoop, Asia Pacific Report and Evening Report.

Read more about the In the Eye of the Storm Pacific Climate Conference.

Pacific Climate Warriors celebrate Pope’s leadership

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