The College hosted Jennifer Redfearn, environmental journalist and film producer, on April 31. Redfearn spoke about her experience producing the forthcoming documentary “Sun Come Up.”
The film tells the tale of the Carteret Islands, a small string of islands in the South Pacific that is rapidly disappearing due to a global warming-induced rise in sea level. The film chronicles the lives of the islands’ displaced former inhabitants, who are dealing with the two-part challenge of being forced to relocate while not being officially recognized under international law as refugees.
Redfearn hopes to bring the Islanders’ remarkable situation to the public consciousness with her documentary, which premieres April 8.
“These islands, from a distance, look like a tropical paradise,” Redfearn said, “until you get closer, and you can see the destruction on the island. It’s quite evident.”
She described scenes of uprooted trees, rampant saltwater contamination of food and water sources, and, most notably, a swiftly disappearing shoreline.
“The kids were fishing on land where they used to garden,” she said. “What the Carteret Island people are seeing is … the front lines of climate change.”
Though the Carteret Islanders, as the film purports, may be the world’s first “environmental refugees,” they face a more complex issue than simply leaving their homes behind, in itself an imposing feat. Once they are relocated, they may face the future on their own, without assistance from the global community; “environmental refugee” is not yet a recognized condition under international law. And as many still consider climate change an imagining, legitimization of the Carteret Islanders’ condition may be far off.
“There’s been a lot of opposition,” Redfearn said of the attempts of her documentary to classify the Carteret Islanders as refugees of climate change. “There was an argument saying the changes on the island weren’t being caused by climate change, it was by geological subsidence, or tectonic plate shift. This seemed like a pretty viable reason … but scientists say the movement is so small that it can’t be explained by a tectonic plate shift.”
Redfearn intends for her documentary to serve as a sort of magnifying glass, exploring the lives of one set of victims of climate change, in order to raise awareness of the issue as a whole – and, as a natural accompaniment, awareness of the Carteret Islanders’ situation.
Students and professors alike were moved by Redfearn’s lecture and screening. During the question-and-answer session following the presentation, Kim Pearson, associate professor of journalism, extended a note of appreciation to the journalist and producer.
“You have taken a subject that for many of us may seem abstract or remote,” Pearson said, “and you have really humanized it.”
Becky Bernot, senior journalism major, echoed the sentiment.
“It was definitely very moving,” Bernot said. “Before I heard the presentation I had never heard of the Carteret Islands before. It’s really amazing to me that we can live in a culture that has the potential to have so much impact on their situation and we don’t even know about it.”