The Kiribati Project - The First Climate Change Refugees?

Grades 4 - High School

Kiribati, (pronounced KEER-ə-bahss) and many other small developing countries are often unknown to most people and therefore ignored in the greater climate change discussions.  Chris Brown is dedicated to changing that starting with coming to your school or classroom and presenting a 2 1/2 hour interactive, standards based lesson (see below) focused on Kiribati and climate change refugees.  This will not only help the students become aware of the plight of countries such as Kiribati, but also help develop a greater understanding of the implications climate change has on all of us. 


From 1990 to 1992 Chris was a Peace Corps volunteer and lived on Marakei Island in the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati.  Kiribati is located near the International Dateline and the Equator and is made up of 33 coral atolls, 16 of which are inhabited.  The islands are very small, generally between 1/8 to 1/2 mile wide with an elevation no greater than 15 feet above sea level.  There is no running water or electricity except on the capital island of Tarawa.  The fresh water comes from very shallow wells which contain fresh water lenses.  Essentially the fresh water sits on a coral / calcium rock bed that is just above the salt water foundation.  This is a very fragile ecosystem and one of the first places to feel the effects of polar / glacial melt and the rise of the ocean.  As a result there are predictions that at the current pace of change in overall ocean levels, the Islands of Kiribati will be uninhabitable within the next 50 to 75 years.  Kiribati currently has a population of about 110,000 people.  Where will they go?  What about the millions of others who live on low lying islands through out the world.  How will this migration of climate change refugees affect the rest of the planet.  


The first hour of the program is focused on developing a sense of where Kiribati is and what life is like on these fragile atolls.  Through a series of activities the students will be presented with a variety of cultural objects, globes/ maps, pictures, movies, music and stories that will give them a sense of this life. 


The second hour focuses on the rapid changes happening in a country like Kiribati as the ocean rises and the fresh water disappears.  The students then explore the global implications and other places on the planet that are affected.  The lesson finishes on a high note with what is and can be done to reverse this trend.  The students are given a chance to come up with their own ideas to help solve the problem, including what can be done on a personal level, but more importantly what can be done on an awareness and political level. 

Standards Addressed:

Earth Science

Interdependence within the Earth system

Water circulates through the Earth's crust, oceans and atmosphere in what is known as the water cycle.

Identify where water collects on Earth, including atmosphere, ground, and surface water, and describe how water moves through the Earth system using the processes of evaporation, condensation and precipitation.
Earth Science

Human Interaction with Earth Systems
In order to maintain and improve their existence, humans interact with and influence Earth systems.
Describe how the methods people utilize to obtain and use water in their homes and communities can affect water supply and quality

Earth Science
Interdependence Within the Earth system
 Patterns of atmospheric movement influence global climate and local weather.
 Describe how the composition and structure of the Earth's atmosphere affects energy absorption, climate, and the distribution of particulates and gases. For example: Certain gases contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Earth and Space Science
Human Interactions with the Earth Systems
 People consider potential benefits, costs and risks to make decisions on how they interact with natural systems.
Explain how human activity and natural processes are altering the hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere, including pollution, topography and climate. For example: Active volcanoes and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Human Environment Interaction
The environment influences human actions; and humans both adapt to and change, the environment.
Explain how humans adapt to and/or modify the physical environment and how they are in turn affected by these adaptations and modifications.
For example: Humans cut down a forest to clear land for farming, which leads to soil erosion. Consequently, humans have to use more fertilizer to supplement the nutrients in the soil.


Human Systems
The characteristics, distribution and migration of human populations on the earth’s surface influence human systems (cultural, economic and political systems).
Describe the locations of human populations and the cultural characteristics of Australia/ Oceania.


This program is offered to grades 4 - 12 and is adapted depending on the grade level(s), number of students, (it is best to have no more than 60 students),  English levels, etc. of the students.  Please contact Chris at to schedule a time for him to visit your school or class.