Pacific atolls' disappearing act

49er Girl Scouts come to rescue of threatened islands
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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Someplace with a Mountain
: 55-minute movie narrated by Chevy Chase
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, March 9
Where: Canyon View Community Center, 417 Maidu Drive, Auburn
Cost: Free
Info: (530) 888-8099,
Popcorn will be served. Bring your own drinks.
Presented by the 49er Girl Scouts (Girl Scouts cookies will be on sale).

You’ve heard the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” How about “ain’t no mountain at all?” That’s the tune the people of Polowat Island are singing, as rapidly-rising sea levels encroach on their home turf at the rate of close to one inch a year. When the tallest spot on your island is five feet, well, you do the math. This will eventually be a non-island, maybe not in my lifetime, but possibly during the lives of the Girl Scouts who have stepped in to help.  
“I was watching ‘Know Your Farmer’ on the documentary channel and ‘Someplace with a Mountain’ came on afterward,” said Heather MacRoberts, 13. “I completely agreed with the filmmaker. These people need to be saved. We want to make people aware.”
Heather, an eighth-grader at E.V. Cain Middle School, is a member of the 49er Girl Scouts. Her troop will take some of the money earned from cookie sales this year to show the movie on Saturday, free to the public. As a bonus, Steve Goodall, the man who made the movie will be in attendance.
“I’ve been hip to climate change for a long time,” Goodall said, “Plus, I’m familiar with large construction projects as well as dealing with government agencies. It’s amazing that I ended up there.”
How he ended up there is a story in itself. Goodall left Florida on a sailboat in 2004. After a year in the Caribbean, he went through the Panama Canal to the Galapagos, the Marquesas, Tahiti, Tonga, then turned north toward Micronesia. There he came upon a group of island atolls he describes as the most beautiful he has ever seen. But this Pacific paradise was faced with a serious problem.
 “It’s been happening since 2001, when the sea water first began infiltrating their crops,” Goodall said. “They knew something was happening. FEMA stepped in and financed the building of concrete basins, about 10- by 20-foot, to plant their taro in. When the problem cleared up, they could use them for seed crops. But they were misled, told that it would go away. It broke my heart, they were given false hope, but that’s standard operating procedure.”
The indigenous inhabitants are the Lapita Navigators, named for their reputation as highly mobile seaborne explorers and colonists. They are believed to be the original human settlers of much of Polynesia and parts of Micronesia dating back to 1,600 B.C. Now, their next great journey may be to Yap, an island state about 800 miles away.
“They can move to the island of Yap, some land has been set up for them there,” Goodall said. “But they have no money for infrastructure. So they are slowly moving over. A freighter goes through periodically, though somewhat irregular these days.”
There are about 1,500 inhabitants on five islands, none of whom had ever heard of global warming let alone done anything to contribute to it. Now they are asking “Isn’t there something we can do?”
“I am not going to walk away from these people,” Goodall said. “I am going to keep trying to raise awareness. These people need help and we keep putting it off. We are in denial.”
Goodall has stated that his personal lifestyle helped cause climate change and, on some level, this film is an acknowledgment and an apology. What he didn’t envision was the effect it would have on young people.  North Carolina Girl Scout Abbey Jaine, 11, began an online petition that she hopes will serve as a plea for help. That is where the local Girl Scouts come in, as they will be collecting as many signatures as they can at Saturday’s screening.
“She needs 25,000 signatures,” Heather said. “Every one we get, we’ll mail them to Abbey.”
Abbey’s petition can be found online at