UH Hilo student publishes anthology of classmates’ short stories about climate change

It began last fall when Kai Gaitley took a geography class called Literature and the Environment taught by Kathryn Besio, a professor of geography and environmental sciences. For the final exam, the students in the class were each asked to write a climate-themed short story.

By Susan Enright.

The book’s cover art is by UH Hilo student Zoe Whitney, who won a competition the editor Kai Gaitley held to find the right designer.

An English major at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo has published an anthology of climate-themed stories written by fellow classmates. The e-book, An Anthology for a Threatened Planet: The Tides are Changing…Ride the Wave, edited by Kai Gaitley, is available at Amazon for $3 a copy. All proceeds will go to the Young Voices for the Planet project, a film series dedicated to educating and empowering children and youth about addressing climate change.

The birth of the anthology was organic, one step leading to the next.

It began last fall when Gaitley took a geography class called Literature and the Environment (GEOG 387) taught by Kathryn Besio, a professor of geography and environmental sciences. For the final exam, the students in the class were each asked to write a climate-themed short story.

Kai Gaitley
Kai Gaitley

“When we did the end of semester readings I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed hearing them all, without exception,” says Gaitley. “I suggested to Professor Besio that it would be nice to make these available as a collection, because as a whole, the message they conveyed was emblematic of the mindset of the group.”

Gaitley says for many of the students, learning about the realities of climate change was a shock, having been fed a lifetime of disinformation. He says the fear and anger that sometimes bubbles up in the stories is a reflection of their feelings. “Many of the stories focus on family and home, showing who the authors were scared and angry for.”

Kathryn Besio
Kathryn Besio

“Prof. Besio then suggested that for the next semester I should take on the project as directed studies,” Gaitley explains. “So in spring this year, I set about editing 13 short stories and learning the process of e-publishing.”

The anthology

When Gaitley became aware that to publish on Kindle meant setting a price for the work, he decided to look for someone well known to do the introduction. After outspoken astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson turned him down, the Obamas failed to respond in time, and a former head of the EPA said she was “just too exhausted to write something spicy about the current administration,” Gaitley found Lynne Cherry, an internationally known environmentalist, author, illustrator and filmmaker dedicated to communicating with children.

Lynne Cherry
Lynne Cherry

Cherry is a great inspiration to Gaitley and his classmates. Many of her books are found in American schools; her children’s book The Great Kapok Tree, published in 1990, has been translated into many different languages and sold a million copies worldwide. She’s also a filmmaker and founded the educational organization Young Voices for the Planet, to which all proceeds from the anthology will go.

“It was the greatest accident we could have imagined, as Lynne created the Young Voices for the Planet project, which makes films about young people doing incredible things to combat climate change,” Gaitley explains. “She readily agreed to help us and write an introduction [and then] promote it to her fans on our behalf.”

Cherry writes in her introduction to the anthology:

These stories serve as cautionary tales as we head into the age of climate disruption. They paint dire pictures of where inaction will take us. But they also remind us of the importance of speaking out and focusing our energies on demanding actions and solutions now. As a society and as a planet, we need to respond to this global climate emergency. Because these young people and the generations who follow them will bear the brunt of climate disruption, they are the best messengers.

The stories and student authors found in the anthology are as follows:

  • “The Rising” by Kimiko Taguchi.
  • “Our Excuse” by Tessa Henderson.
  • “Plus-One: Fireball” by Tynsl Kailimai.
  • “Home Cooking” by Jack Stonehouse.
  • “Surviving the Heat” by Jess Bee.
  • “Little Soldiers” by Jadessa.
  • “The Last Directorate” by Uilani Leslie.
  • “The Journal of Emalia Lononui” by Kim Leolani Kalama.
  • “A Native’s Journey” by Paele Kiakona.
  • “The Koʻa Chronicle” by Jowell Kaimana Guerreiro.
  • “Naitram Saviors” by Heidi Featherstone.
  • “The Flora Design” by Traven Apiki.
  • “Ghosts of The Delta” by Kai A. Gaitley.
Zoe Whitney
Zoe Whitney

The afterword is by Prof. Besio.

The book’s cover art is by UH Hilo student Zoe Whitney, who won a competition Gaitley held to find the right designer.

Excerpts from two stories

Excerpt from “The Last Directorate” by Uilani Leslie:

But my family has a secret, one that could cost us our lives. Division 1893 was once called Hawaiʻi, and its native inhabitants – called kanaka – were my ancestors. They were unwillingly a part of a larger country and fought for sovereignty after their culture was forcibly taken from them. The language and traditions were making a comeback, and my kūpuna taught each generation to continue passing it along. My ʻohana secretly speaks ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and practices the traditions. We have Hawaiian names and talk to each other every day, reminding us of the past and how we continue to keep it alive in the present. Living on this land for hundreds of years and through many generations has given us the strength to never waiver in our beliefs. I call myself Mololani Nihoa, not Skye White. I come from a long line of Nihoa that survived Ground Zero. I am proud to know my history and culture in a world where we are no longer allowed to be different. I will teach my children as my father and mother have taught me, and it will continue to be passed on through time.

Excerpt from “The Journal of Emalia Lononui” by Kim Leolani:

January 21, 2045

Aloha my dear moʻopuna,

It’s late evening and I can’t sleep. Maybe writing to you will ease my anxiety. A nuclear explosion occurred today in Australia. How does that affect us? Shifting winds and currents could mean that fall-out will find its way here. The situation is being monitored, but I can’t help worrying. We aren’t equipped for this. We are helpless, unless we can find a way to protect ourselves. Grandpa and I will be going to a community meeting tomorrow to find out about the Civil Defense strategic plan.

On a happier note, today is a special day in our family. It’s your great-great-grandpa Ikuwāʻs birthday. He would have been 90 years old. He was born on January 21, 1955. He died at the age of 70, when he was killed during the 2025 tsunami. An amazing waterman, the family always joked that he could ride out any tsunami wave. Unfortunately, he had left his house too late and was trapped on the highway as the surge washed onshore. His seatbelt locked, and he was swept out with the backwash. Ironic isn’t it?

Future teacher

Gaitley will be graduating this semester and intends to then earn a master of education degree at UH Mānoa via distance learning from Hilo. He’d like to become a high school English teacher.

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.