Kava club: On climate change for beginners, decolonisation, and self-care

On Sunday evening, May 15, the Kava Club ran a screening of the film “Plastic Paradise”, and followed this with a panel discussion on climate change. Ahilapapa Rands facilitated, with Pala Molisa, Teanau Tuiono, and Tina ‘Non Plastic Maori’ Ngata answering her questions.

To follow is a transcription of Pala’s contribution.

Ahilapapa Rands: Can you give us your “beginner’s guide” to climate change?

Pala Molisa: I teach down at Victoria University – I teach accounting. So a lot of the students that I teach, they don’t have much of an “environmental” background. So I try to boil it down to the most important points, and one thing I always say is that climate change – globally, collectively – is probably our most serious issue. It’s probably an understatement to call it an “issue” as well.

Your generation – the ones I see up the front here, you young people – if we don’t do something now, to substantially change the rate of carbon emissions going into the atmosphere… well, in scientific terms, they say we are 1.5 degrees warmer than baseline. Baseline is where we were somewhere around the 1800s – that’s when the industrial revolution started. That’s when we started having big factories, big industry, burning with coal – big steamships. That’s really when we started noticing the world getting warmer because of human activity.

So right now, we’re about 1.5 degrees above baseline. Most scientists would agree that if we go to 2 degrees above baseline, most complex life on the planet will die. We’re gone. Humanity – as a species – we’re gone.

The other thing I always tell my students as well – the Pacific, it’s really special. Well – it’s kind of obvious, we are special.

Teanau Tuiono: Look at us!

Pala Molisa: But I mean in a different way as well. The Pacific is special when it comes to climate change, because we’re going to experience the effects first, and we’re going to experience the effects the worst. We’re going to be the hardest hit. And the first hit. So, for instance, we’ve already seen five islands in the Solomon islands go underwater.

We’re the first that’s going to experience things like sea-level rise – we’re going to get crop failures, extreme weather events like superstorms: cyclone Pam last year, hitting Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu; cyclone Winston hitting Fiji this year – that’s all part of this global climate crisis.

The thing we need to keep in mind: 2 degrees doesn’t sound a lot, huh? But 2 degrees is really important if you compare it against the ability of plants to adapt to weather changes. Plants – the ecosystem is really fragile. The rate we are warming the planet is something like ten thousand times faster than our plants can adapt to those warming changes. So they just die off. We just have whole species of plants, die off. That’s the situation now.

Ahilapapa Rands: So – what if you are in a position where you are coming to the table, and you want to affect change – it’s a two-tiered thing. It’s not just a climate change issue – it’s also structural racism, it’s also white supremacy… I’m sure we’re all on the same page that, these kinds of [social justice and environmental movements] have to be decolonising, or they’ll be nothing, right? Because we are at the front lines: it’s our bodies that are on the line, it’s our islands, it’s our whenua. So it would be good to hear from you Pala, what your thoughts are on that. 

Pala Molisa: Thanks Ahi. That’s something I think about all the time – in my work, and in the political projects I get involved in. I go through phases – in social change, you need to develop and realise different things, eh? One of the things that cuts across everything you do – you have to ground everything you do on a real concern to question everything. Critical education has to be one of the fundamental platforms of our struggle. Question everything – particularly question the education system, the conventional knowledge and wisdom you get from mainstream society.

Because one of the most important tools of colonisation is teaching us, “your culture is deficient, there’s something wrong with it”. That’s designed to make you lose confidence and pride in where you come from. And a lot of that’s connected to the erasing of our Pacific histories that link us together. One of my favourite Pacific thinkers is Epeli Hau’ofa, the great Tongan scholar who passed away in the mid 2000s. When our decolonisation movements started coming through the Pacific in the sixties, seventies, Epeli was one of the ones who came at the end there.

One of the things he touched on, he said: Really, in order to rise up to the challenges of our time, we need to reclaim again cultural models of who we are that are rich enough and that empower us.

I go out to Naenae – I look at the way our boys are schooled – most of our boys are schooled and taught that you better be amazing athlete and rugby player, league player – because if you don’t make it in either that or music – it’s over for you. because that intellect isn’t valuable. I call it “brown masculinity”: all body, no head. Then they teach other boys, Pakeha boys white masculinity – which values intellectual development.

But if you look at our models coming out of our own oral, cultural and spiritual traditions – look for instance at our model of the Navigator. What do you have to be to be able to navigate the biggest body of water on earth for 3,000 or more years? Coming and going between our islands? You have to be a scientist, you have to have knowledge of astronomy, you have to hold in your head all the different scientific knowledges of the seas, the winds, geography, and you have to be courageous. Fearless.

That – that is why we were able to survive here for thousands of years. And to live in place. You know – this world, this Western world, has so many problems now. You look at our own people, where we come from. Perfect food, perfect health, able to stay in place for thousands of years without destroying the land. That’s our cultures. We have a lot of the answers that this Western world has no idea about. And can’t solve. And they want to keep telling us that we have to look elsewhere, outside of our own foundations, to look for answers? No – no, my suggestion would be, No, that’s colonised thinking again.

If we can have the courage to go back to our roots, reclaim our roots – a lot of us don’t know it – my mum used to speak four indigenous languages. I’m not fluent in one. I can follow two. But again, that’s another consequence of colonisation. We have to stop looking outside for insight and inspiration.

This is our place. And if we don’t fight for it, no-one else is going to fight for it. No-one fights harder for Aotearoa than Maori – no-one fights harder, should fight harder for the Pacific than us. So when I say, What will we do? One of the most important things we can do is take that courageous first step, use a bit of imagination, and start tapping in again. Reclaiming that strength that’s in our cultures. And challenging everything that paints us out as somehow deficient, second-class and lower. This, this is our place.

This sea of islands – you know, we’re not little, fragile islands in this vast ocean. This vast ocean, this is our place. Some people would even say, this is our vast ocean empire. And colonised history took that away and tried to – you know, in the public sector we talk about “deficit models” – we are always being placed in deficit models. Our kids are somehow deficient, one way or the other – that’s not true. That’s not true. This system’s deficient. That’s why you see all these problems around the place now. And they got no answers.

So, to decolonsie, I would say: let’s follow some of our foremothers and forefathers like Epeli. Let’s start going back, and searching for those models that are going to be our guides. And let’s fight. Let’s fight to keep this place that we all love.

Ahilapapa Rands: On my own personal journey of decolonisation, which is just starting tentatively in the last few years or so – one of the things that I’ve encountered is a sense of – just becoming really overwhelmed. Or it just becoming too much. So I’m wondering about what your individual strategies are for self-care – how do you navigate those times, when the layers start to come off your eyes and you just can’t believe what you’re seeing, or what you’ve been internalising for so long? Could I get a little take-away piece of advice from you?

Pala Molisa: The individual journey – that’s really important, because you get strength from being able to make changes to changes that are easily within your grasp, eh. Reducing your plastic consumption, that sort of thing. But – actual change of institutions – you can’t do that by yourself. You have to get together with each other, you have to build collectives, movements. You look at all our independence struggles, you look at all our working class social justice struggles here – it’s through movements you build together, and, our base is in our community.

The thing I’d add to that is, especially for the young people here tonight – I think one of the challenges, one of the struggles that’s really going to help us collectively – is if you guys go searching for your truth.

Power always relies on lies. All systems of power. Whether it’s capitalism, the class power of capitalism; whether it’s the institutionalised racism of white supremacy telling you lies about your cultures being deficient, you people being good for nothing, all systems of power are built on lies. So if you can find truth – if you can find truth, you’ll feel it inside you, you’ll get stronger.

That’s one of the very first things you can do. Start questioning, start going: What are the lies I’ve been told? What are the really basic lies I’m being fed, especially at school? And you go finding your mates. And if you don’t have mates there, you can come talk to people like us, yeah. But the struggle to change is also built on the struggle to find truth. And there’s truth inside each and every one of you. You’ve got a unique voice, you’ve got something to contribute, but you’ll find that contribution if you find your truth.

That’s what I’ve found on my journey as well. My mum, she was an independence freedom fighter for Vanuatu, alongside Dad – she was also a poet and a feminist, a woman’s rights freedom fighter, and she taught me a lot of that. I ended up doing my PhD because of her, when she passed away. But that’s what started me on my journey. Tina Ngata talked about always being accountable to our whanau, and our ancestors as well. For me, the first one in line is Mum.

She’s already gone, but I know I’m going to meet her one day, and I want to make sure when I see her – I’ll be able to look her in the eye. And I think everyone will have whanau that you’re going to be responsible for.

All our ancestors, they gave us things to look after. Papatuanuku. And that’s being destroyed, so – responsibility. I always go back to – What’s the truth? Does this resonate? And that’s – once you start searching for that, you’ll start going places. Bumping into people. It’s almost like our ancestors are actually waiting for us to wake up, and once you start waking up, they’ll start pushing us where we need to go.

Teanau Tuiono: Like to Palmerston North.



Weathering Catastrophe: Writers’ Week panel discussion

This Writers’ Week panel discussion, recorded and aired on Radio New Zealand, centres around Simon Winchester’s book Pacific: The Ocean of the Future. Radio New Zealand International journalist Koroi Hawkins and academic Pala Molisa discuss the environmental, legal, political and practical issues related to how we in Aotearoa currently respond to natural catastrophes around the Pacific Rim. RNZ National’s Lynn Freeman chairs.

“Social crisis tied to climate change”: interview on Waatea News, post-Cyclone Winston

“Pala is an economist by trade, but humanitarian and environmentalist by nature.One of his primary goals is to bring all Pacific / Moananui a Kiwa peoples together (like in ancient times) and have us all work actively and closely together to support one another through the elemental, environmental and ultimately socio-economic changes already in progress. Our newly formed indigenous network of Climate Change Warriors acknowledge there is a disconnect between Maori and our Pacific brothers and sisters.”

Listen to the full interview on Waatea news here.


Rebuilding early childhood education in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam

See a report by Wendy Griffin of VSA, on rebuilding early childhood education in Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam.

“In two Provinces, many Kindergartens have not been rebuilt and remain under tarpaulin, tents or in temporary shelter.

We had some fantastic news last week though. Victoria University Students Association in Wellington has raised some funds for Vanuatu with advice and encouragement from Dr Pala Molisa, a lecturer from Vanuatu based in Wellington.

With the support of the University, Volunteer Service Abroad, the NZ Ministry of Education and the Vanuatu Early Childhood Care and Education Unit, funds will be allocated to the building of a multi-purpose, model kindergarten, resource library and field-based teacher training centre on Tanna.”

Report from the Eye of the Storm

Read an excellent report on the first day of the Pacific Climate Change Conference -hosted by Doctor Pala Molisa and Professor James Renwick at Victoria University of Wellington – by Thomas Leaycraft of Scoop .

“Molisa believes the lexicon for mainstream discussion has been stripped of the appropriate radical language. Words like “ecological holocaust”, “ecocide” and “biocide” should be part of society’s working vocabulary.”

Capitalism accelerating eco-collapse, says Pacific academic

“A Wellington-based academic from Vanuatu says that left unchecked, capitalism will continue to accelerate ecological collapse.

Pala Molisa from the School of Accounting and Commercial Law at Victoria Business School has urged people to look closely at the roots of climate change, which he links to the prevalent economic system.

Mr Molisa told Johnny Blades that climate discourse tends to be clouded by an assumption that perpetual growth is possible.”

Click here to read or listen to Pala’s interview with Johnny Blades at Radio New Zealand.

Wellington People’s Climate March

Photo: Teresia Teaiwa


Kia ora koutou, kia orana, ni sa bula vinaka, Talofa lava, Fakalofalahi atu, Taloha ni, [Kam na mauri], Halo olgeta, and warm Pacific Greetings everyone.

It’s a huge honour and a privilege to be part of this Wellington People’s Climate March. [It’s a huge honour and privilege to be with everyone here today on the People’s Climate March because what we are marching, speaking out, and protesting for is the need to address the greatest, most historically unprecedented social and ecological crisis of our time.

If we look at science, the picture is clear: extreme weather events are now going to be the future norm; the sea ice is shrinking; there will be more high temperatures, droughts and fires; the glaciers are melting and permafrost is thawing; methane stores are releasing all over the globe; we are looking at an ice-free Arctic future; we are in the midst of a human-induced mass extinction; and if we do not keep under the 2 degree rise, many scientists predict that the earth will become increasingly inhospitable to life, both humanity’s and that of many other species that we share this beautiful planet with.

We’re staring at mass extinction, and an incredibly dark future for future generations – for our babies, and our babies’ babies.

This is why we’re out on the streets, this is why we’re gathering together, this is why we’re here today.]

I’m here as an academic, and as Sandra Grey has said, we believe that academics have a heavy responsibility to be at the forefront, at least intellectually, in terms of pushing the social and ecological issues that we need to confront collectively as a society. But I am also here today as a person of the Pacific, and so we also carry a certain weight and a certain sadness over the lack of action over the last twenty years particularly (although we can go further back than that) in terms of substantial, international public policy changes. And if this Paris meeting doesn’t produce anything substantive, I think we are going to have to seriously confront the next steps.

We’ve been marching for the last thirty years, and yet here we are, begging our governments again to simply listen to the people. One of the reasons that I’m out here especially is because I don’t really come from the generation of all the people who run and control and make the major decisions in our society – that’s the people before me. But I can see that the people who will really bear the brunt of climate crisis into the future will be our babies, and our babies’ babies.

So I know we have gathered here today to petition our political leaders, our parliamentarians, but today I’m going to take a different focus. I want to talk instead to us, the people, and I want to talk in particular, to you all, the young people, who are our future and who are our hopes and dreams, who will have to clean up the mess that previous generations can laid at your doorstep. I want to talk to you, first and foremost, rather than our politicians because I come from a certain tradition, a certain indigenous tradition, that holds that the power in a society always comes from below.

My mum used to call this black stone. Vatumaraga. That was because on our islands, our volcanic islands, that was the baserock. The foundation stone. If we translated that into political understandings, it actually means that ultimately power rests and abides with the people.

So our governments, our leaders, our political parties, should be for the people. If our government is not for the people, it is fundamentally illegitimate.

To be honest, I think if we were to look at how serious and grave things are, we can’t leave it up to our politicians. So what I’d like to address is not so much the politicians today, but I want to address everyone here, the people, but I especially want to address you young people. I want to address you who are going to be picking up the crap that our forebears are leaving behind and that they’re going to leave on your doorstep. And I don’t say that with any –  I say that with a lot of sadness.

But I want to address you young people, and I want to do it as a teacher. Every time I teach, I try to push students – I tell students who come to university, not just to get a qualification, you’re actually coming to learn how to die. What that means is, you come to learn to grow, because there is no growth without death. You come to learn about society, you come to learn about the deep values that your societies are based upon and also the systems that you live within, that teach critical thinking, and that takes courage.

So I’m going to leave you with some points that I think we need to keep in mind, if, after Paris, we do not get the substantive policies we need.

THE FIRST IS THAT IF WE’RE GOING TO HAVE ANY CHANCE OF ADDRESSING THE CLIMATE CRISIS, WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO MUSTER THE COURAGE TO HONESTLY CONFRONT THE ROOTS OF THE CRISIS. Climate crisis and other forms of ecological crises and social crises, whether it is ocean acidification, topsoil loss, deepening inequality or structural poverty are not accidental consequences. They are patterned consequences that are the products of the social systems, the systems of power, we live within. The first step to addressing the climate crisis, then, is to honestly confront these systemic roots in the socioeconomic system of capitalism. This sort of honesty is always difficult because it involves challenging some of the most deeply held beliefs that our societies are based on and challenging the most powerful economic groups and political elites who are our leaders. This difficulty is why the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche calls this process of honest, critical self-reflection looking into “the molten pit”, the molten pit of human reality. And even though it’s difficult, it has to be done because that’s always the first step to addressing any problem. As James Baldwin has said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.”

We’re not very good that that at the moment. Just look, for instance, at how most of political discussion addresses the issue of “the environment”: we tend to frame it as a matter of needing to balance the needs of “the economy” against the needs of “the environment”. We assume that economy and environment can be “balanced”. We never question whether or not “the economy” – capitalism – is even sustainable or not. And there are powerful reasons we need to confront that show how capitalism never has been and cannot ever be sustainable. This is a system that has origins in bloodshed – in the imperialism, dispossession and genocide against indigenous peoples – and in the ecocidal imperative of infinite growth at a rate of 3% a year. That’s compound growth. You can’t have infinite compound growth on a finite planet. This reality, however, is hard for us to face because of the concentration of corporate power that we’ve undergone over the past forty or so years that’s seen most of liberal institutions become co-opted and subject to corporate capture, and most of us are deeply invested in this culture of rampant consumerist growth.

THE SECOND IS THAT WE HAVE TO UNDERSTAND AND NEVER FORGET THE TRUE NATURE OF POWER. Frederick Douglass said it best: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” This means building social movements that are powerful enough to actually break the corporate stranglehold over the political process and that can force politicians to actually act in the public interest.

You know, we’re taught this myth in our schools that “democracy” and “capitalism” naturally go together. That’s never been true. If we look at history, the truth is that democratic culture has always been under threat from corporate culture, and at certain times, that democratic flame has actually been extinguished by the corporate concentration and consolidation of power.

That fragile democratic flame has only survived because the unions fought for them, because the women’s movement fought for them, because the civil rights movement fought for them, and right from the start, because indigenous people fought against colonisation when it came to these shores.

THIRDLY, WE CAN’T SEPARATE ECOLOGICAL CRISES LIKE THE CLIMATE CRISIS FROM SOCIAL CRISES ANY MORE. We can’t say, “Minister for the environment, please look after us,”; we can’t say, “particular leaders, please look after us,” – this is a fight that we have to carry out at every single level of our institutions, through our society. We have to reclaim that democratic culture that’s been taken away from us. And it’s been taken away from us by big business.


We need to put at the forefront, tangata whenua; indigenous people throughout the Pacific; I came across here, Tereseia Teaiwa, and a few of our Pacific brothers and sisters over there had a placard that said “CO2 Colonialism”. And I think that’s the truth. Because climate change happened through that colonial project that saw certain people as less than human, and that also saw the land as something that was inherently exploitable. So, I’m really honoured to be here today with you all, let’s continue to fight and take things forward, but let’s also push ourselves to look at things that we have looked away from for far too long. Kia ora.

Pala Molisa