Finding My Passion at ANU

Marianna O’Gorman (MClimChange ‘16)
09 Jun 2022

An important thing about ANU is that it actively promotes diversity through international scholarships, as a result, I was lucky enough to study with students from Pacific Island nations. This included Conchitta Paul Tatireta, and it was during an ethnographic interview with her, about her experience of climate change, that I started to understand the greulling mental impact climate change is having on so many of our Pacific neighbours.

Conchitta, a Kiribati national employed by Ministry of Environment, explained to me how her Pacific Island nation is sinking due to climate change and that there is no high ground to escape to.

When tsunami warnings come, she packs her children's backpacks with coconut shells and asks them to hold hands tightly - hoping they will float because there is nowhere else to go. And much of their lands are passed down through the generations so, as land sinks lower and lower into the ocean, the only option is to build houses on higher stilts in the shallow water.

Many years later, I read in the paper that the Right Honourable Anote Tong, former President of the Republic of Kiribati, was visiting Australia. At the time, I was working for progressive public policy think tank, the McKell Institute and so I wrote to him asking if the McKell Institute could host him for a climate dialogue. He took me up on the offer, but it was a heartbreaking and inspiring discussion; listening to a man who spent thirteen years leading a country whose people will be forcibly displaced by climate change:

"I watch my grandchildren and know that they won't have a home when they grow up. I don't know if I will be around, in some ways I hope I won't be, because it will save me the agony of having to watch. The enormity of what we are facing is paralysing," he said.

A highlight from my time at ANU would be the opportunities to learn from international experts in their field. When I would walk into rooms and have people like Professors Frank Jotzo, Professor Howard Bamsey, and Martijn Wilder - absolute giants in their fields - and I remember thinking:

'These are the people whose work I admire, I reference them and refer to them as the experts and now, they are my lecturer?'.

I still count myself lucky for all that they taught me; and use the knowledge and skills I built at ANU each day. Through ANU, my peers and mentors, I found my passion - and I know I want to work in the climate field for the rest of my life.

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