America's Unofficial Ambassadors

We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.

Intercultural Environmental Talks in Yogyakarta.

While preforming her duties as a research assistant at the PKBI DIY Center in Indonesia, Sarah Wall leads an open discussion on the effects of global warming within Southeast Asia in her Bahasa language class.

During our 5th Bahasa Indonesia lesson, when we were learning how to create the future tense with the 10 verbs we had memorized so far, our teacher threw what seemed like a giant curve ball at us. We were going to answer some questions she posed in the future tense. The first question she asked, “What do you think about global warming?”

Our reactions were pretty priceless, I was frantically trying to think of words I knew that applied to this. “Ummm, it’s bad… how do I say that again?” “Tidak bagus?” To us this seemed like a totally random and difficult topic. Global warming is not something that pops up in early conversations with new friends in America. People living in New Orleans or along the New Jersey boardwalk would probably contradict my next statement, but in my opinion Americans in general worry about global warming because it is something that the news tells us we are supposed to worry about. We are distantly aware that large storms at the coast have been more frequent and that Alaska’s famous ice caps are shrinking, but neither of these things generally pops into my head as a good conversation starter.

However, it did not take long to realize that this distant, vague concern about the concept of global warming is not at all the case in Indonesia, and for good reason. Indonesia is made up of 17,500 islands with 80,000 kilometers of coastline. 42 million of the 247 million Indonesian people live in areas that are below just 10 meters above sea level, and the vast majority of Indonesia’s industry and business centers are located in coastal regions. The rising sea level has already completely submerged 24 of Indonesia’s smaller islands, and ACCCRN estimates that 2,000 could be submerged by 2030. These circumstances make Indonesia one of the most vulnerable countries when it comes to global climate change.

The next week, our Bahasa teacher presented pictures to accompany the topics we would discuss. The first was Jakarta, completely covered in flood waters. I immediately assumed that the picture was taken in 2011, when American news stations covered the heavy monsoon season in Southeast Asia, that wreaked havoc in Bangkok, killing hundreds and displacing nearly 13 million people. But Dahra corrected me. The picture was taken last year, and while the 2013 floods were particularly bad, parts of Jakarta flood every year. Not surprising, given that a large portion of downtown Jakarta is below sea level.

I was amazed. Jakarta is the hub of Indonesia’s economy, and over 9 million people live there. Given that this is roughly the population of New York City’s five boroughs, I got to thinking what it would be like if parts of our nation’s largest city, and my current residence, flooded on a yearly basis. It would certainly mean that the affects of global warming would hit a lot closer to home. With this perspective, it was not hard to see why climate change is much more likely to come up in day to day conversation in Indonesia. Global warming presents a very real threat to the world’s 4th most populated nation, and it is not something they can address alone. Each one of us as a global society must consider how we can reduce our contribution to global warming. Otherwise, the devastation of flooding and unpredictable storms in Southeast Asia and elsewhere will threaten the livelihood of millions.

I am wearing the black and white shirt. My fellow AUA volunteers are to the right of me, Sarah in the pink and Winona in the green.

I am wearing the black and white shirt. My fellow AUA volunteers are to the right of me, Suraiya in the pink and Winona in the green.

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