Waikato student takes Pacific climate change agenda to California

6 July 2012

Lora Vaioleti

Heading for California: Fulbright scholarship recipient Lora Vaioleti is taking her research into the perceptions of climate change in the Pacific to the University of California this September.

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 on perceptions of climate change in the Pacific region.

Ms Vaioleti, 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.

Climate change close to home

She is currently studying towards a Master of Management Studies (MMS) degree  focusing on management and sustainability at the University of 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.

Ms Vaioleti'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.”

Far-reaching implications

She says climate change has wide-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 Ms Vaioleti’s study indicated weather pattern change is adversely affecting the growth of crops, meaning Tonga is more reliant on imported foods. Ms Vaioleti says this is an issue because those foods “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.”

Current research

In most cases, the people Ms Vaioleti interviewed said Pacific people are currently focused on just meeting their day-to-day needs of food and education, rather 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. Pacific people  need 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”.

Study in California

Ms Vaioleti’s scholarship from Fulbright means she can now continue studying towards her masters degree at the University of California, Irvine – a partner university to Waikato University – starting this September. “I’m really looking forward to continuing my studies and research state-side. The Fulbright scholarship represents an amazing opportunity that I intend to make the most of.”

Two other University of Waikato students, Kenny Bell and Tanya O'Neill, were also receipients of Fulbright awards this year.

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