TONY DE BRUM - BY BRIAN COWDEN
August 22, is the third anniversary of the passing of Ambassador Tony de Brum of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Tony was an incredible human being, one of those rare souls with the ability to see our world on the micro and at the macro, then be able to connect the two and then translate this in a way that was clear and understandable to all.
Tony was born on February 17, 1946 in the Marshall Islands; sadly or tragically at the dawn of the Atomic Age. This was a little over six months after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and just four months before Operation Crossroads, the first atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands conducted by the United States. He grew up bearing witness to the nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands which lasted for a period of twelve years; 1946-1958. After the nuclear weapons tests ceased, he again bore witness to the damages inflicted by these tests that included permanent destruction to precious homelands as well as the devastation of health and wellbeing for the entire Marshallese population.
After graduating college in 1968, Tony worked tirelessly for the Marshall Islands to gain independence from the United States which happened in 1986 resulting in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and the Compact of Free Association (COFA). Tony then went on to become an international voice and force advocating for nuclear justice for the Pacific Islanders affected by the nuclear tests, putting a stop to nuclear proliferation and for complete and total nuclear disarmament. He worked tirelessly for a nuclear free world which included hauling the nuclear powers into international courts to account for their actions – for this he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is one of the lowest lying nations in the world and one of the first to be effected by the Climate Crisis. Tony again rose to the occasion by going to the entire global community to sound the alarms that our world is on fire. He became the face of COP 21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015 by bringing together the developing and developed countries creating the High Ambition Coalition. This coalition was credited with convincing the conference to hold global increase of temperature 1.5°C.
Tony de Brum worked tirelessly up to the end of his life to find global solutions to the two biggest existential threats to all life that we all are facing today; our Nuclear Legacy and the Climate Crisis. It is up to all of us to pick up where he left off. There is only one technology that can save us. That technology is YOU.
I made my first trip to the Republic of the Marshall Islands in late February of 2017 to attend the first Nuclear Legacy Conference: Charting a Journey Toward Justice in Majuro. This is when I first saw and heard Tony de Brum in the flesh -- he was the keynote speaker. Even though he was suffering from late stage cancer, his focus and voice were strong and powerful. I was also filming this event. I was introduced to Tony after he spoke and was also invited to his house. Over the next few weeks, I would drop by the de Brum house where Tony hung out in the evening on his veranda overlooking Majuro Lagoon. Sometimes there would be three people there, sometimes there would be 40. There was always lively talk and music. He and his father loved to listen to music -- the bulk as a recall was Hawaiian and Country Western. Oh, yeah, there was always kava which is this thick (mud-like) dark “drink” made from beating kava roots. It’s supposed to be a sedative…and yeah, it’s something you have to “develop” a taste for. Tony allowed me the privilege to interview him near the end of my trip on March 29. The filming took place on that wonderful veranda. It was an unbelievable honor for me, because he was and still is one of my heroes. It turned out to be the last interview that he gave. The following is taken from that interview.