The Olympic Games are hectic. With 306 events held over just 19 days, it can be easy to miss a few poignant details or two. When an Olympic weightlifter in Rio celebrated his lifts during the men's 105kg final with a little boogie he quickly became a crowd favorite. Soon, the entire internet knew David Katoatau as the dancing Olympic weightlifter. But consider Katoatau's dance moves your wake-up call, because there's a somber message behind them.
You see Katoatau isn't dancing because he's happy to have made it to the Olympics, he's dancing in a desperate attempt to raise awareness about how climate change is threatening Kiribati. Located in the central Pacific Ocean, Kiribati is comprised of 33 low-lying atolls, 21 of which are inhabited. Rising sea levels caused by climate change are increasingly encroaching on the small nation, eroding its coast and land mass little by little. While scientists don't think the ocean will simply swallow Kiribati's atolls, rising sea levels could shift them significantly over the next few decades, causing a significant strain on the nation's already limited resources, if not making the atolls uninhabitable altogether.
"Most people don't know where Kiribati is," Katoatau told Reuters. "I want people to know more about us so I use weightlifting, and my dancing, to show the world." Desperate to save his home, Katoatau sought to turn the spotlight on Kiribati and the effects of climate change by capturing a bit of the limelight with his dance moves. "I don't know how many years it will be before it sinks. We don't have the resources to save ourselves."
This isn't the first time Katoatau has used the international platform his sport provides him to help spread the word about how climate change is threatening Kiribati. He wrote a touching open letter last year just before a meeting of the Commonwealth Games Federation urging the world to take action toward finding a solution.
Everyday [sic] my people fear for their lives as their homes are lost to the rising sea levels. We live on an atoll with nothing but flat land and ocean surrounding us. We have nowhere to climb and nowhere to run to. ... As a sportsman, I have offered everything to my country but I cannot save it. On behalf of all the people who will die for the country that will no longer exist and for the culture which will be forgotten, I am asking for your help. ... The schools I have visited in Kiribati and the thousands of children I have met aspire to be something great. How do I lie to them and say their dreams are possible when our nation is disappearing?
If Katoatau's dance moves made you smile, consider helping the Olympic athlete in his quest to save Kiribati. There are a few different ways you can help: Start small. Spread the message about the effect climate change is having on the Pacific island nation, and get others interested in the future of Kiribati and its people. Next, consider donating to the Kiribati Red Cross, which assists with distributing relief supplies and helping communities prepare for disasters. Finally, think about the impact an American president who doesn't believe in climate change (despite everything scientists have said) could have on at-risk nations like Kiribati. The United Nations' Paris climate deal may not be all that's needed to save Kiribati, but it's a step toward action, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he'd "cancel" it if elected. Take those thoughts with you to the polls in November when it's time to vote.
Katoatau may not have medaled in his event — he finished sixth in the men's 105kg Group B final — but he's undoubtedly a hero to Kiribati, the small Pacific island nation he calls home.