Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a 26-year-old poet from the Marshall Islands, wrote a lyrical letter to her daughter about a world that may be unrecognizable — thanks to global warming — by the time the infant comes of age. The epistolary poem, which received a standing ovation at the United Nations Climate Summit on Tuesday, includes an apology to the “climate change refugee[s]” and lists the expansive variety of people spreading the word internationally about the destruction climate change is wreaking, marching for “you … for us, because we deserve to do more than just survive, we deserve to thrive.”

The ending, a faithful conclusion to verses buzzing with energy, holds a message of unfailing hope in the face of the inefficacy and inaction of worldwide governments, a message those misty-eyed global leaders will hopefully take home with them to their nations “chanting for change” and act.


The poem was written and performed by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a 26-year-old native of the Marshall Islands. After her recitation in front of 120 heads of state, her daughter and husband joined her on stage, to a standing ovation. An official U.N. Twitter account said many world leaders were moved to tears, evoking memories of a stirring speech from the Philippines representative Yeb Saño during the last major U.N. meeting on climate change, held just days after Typhoon Haiyan.

To say the Marshall Islands is among the countries most affected by climate change is a huge understatement. Jetnil-Kijiner’s moving letter to her child is an example of solastalgia, the increasingly pervasive feeling of sadness and loss for a world that’s being irreversibly altered. The Marshall Islands are at the forefront of global warming, but the struggle of those most affected impacts us all.

Days like today are soul-crushing for those of us who follow climate news closely. But even though this problem often feels hopeless, stories like Jetnil-Kijiner’s and events like Sunday’s march show there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who are working for change against what seems like a tidal wave of apathy.

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—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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