University of Waikato Masters student, Lora Vaioleti, is heading to California this year, thanks to a US$15,000 Fulbright Scholarship, to continue her research of perceptions of climate change in the Pacific region.
Lora, from Hamilton, was one of eight students this year to be granted a Fulbright New Zealand General Graduate Award for promising New Zealand graduate students to undertake postgraduate study or research at US institutions.
She is currently studying towards a Masters of Management and Sustainability at Waikato. Her current research involves using dialogue and futures thinking to help increase resilience to climate change in the Pacific; a region that is particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Lora’s interest in the Pacific region stems from her Tongan ancestry. “My father is Tongan, and I still have a lot of family there, so the issue of climate change is real for me.”
She says climate change has far wider reaching implications for the islands. “Beyond the obvious concerns, such as salt-water intrusion to fresh water sources and loss of arable land, climate change is having a more indirect effect on employment and productivity.”
Insights from one particular participant in Lora’s study indicated weather pattern change is adversely affecting the growth of crops meaning Tonga is more reliant on imported foods. “Which are often more processed and could lead to an increase in other problems like obesity. Not to mention the obvious economic impact for local crop growers.”
In most cases, those Lora interviewed say Pacific People are currently focussed on just meeting day-to-day needs of food or education, than worrying about the future. “Climate change is a scary concept. The reality of the threats needs to be faced, but I want to highlight the potential within Pacific People to think innovatively and strategically to start planning for the future; in the Pacific the future cannot be separated from climate change”.
She says her current thesis is paving the way for further research into ways of increasing resilience. “I want to reimagine climate change adaptation. Ultimately the Pacific needs to build self-reliance towards climate change, as on-going reliance on western aid is not necessarily realistic. The Pacific needs to consider who they will link with in the near future through business or otherwise and what this relationship will look like in order to survive”.
Lora’s scholarship from Fulbright means she can now continue her Masters at the University of California, Irvine – a partner university to Waikato – starting this September. “I’m really looking forward to continuing my studies and research state-side. The Fulbright scholarship represents an amazing opportunity and I intend to make the most of.”