We’re all familiar with the horrific scenes from the movie “2012”, a doomsday film where the tides rise higher than the tallest buildings – engulfing entire populations.
If those theatrics were enough to make you bite your nails, imagine seeing that scenario in real life. Unfortunately, courtesy of climate change, that is not far from happening.
No there’s no apocalypse that’s on it’s way, but the thought of entire populations being buried underwater is not far from being a reality, courtesy of this phenomenon.
Sea levels are rising, as a result of melting ice caps in the Antarctica as well as in Greenland. The biggest casualties of this trend are tiny, Pacific nations which are finding themselves frequently flooded.
It is these islands exactly that are facing 2012-esque consequences: food security is threatened, communities are constantly being flooded and their already minuscule economies struggle even more.
Out of desperation, these countries make knee-jerk decisions to respond to the threat.
Just this week, the island-nation of Kiribati in the Pacific purchased 2,428 hectares of land in Fiji to grow crops. Their president Anote Tong told the media it was a decision related to ‘food security’ as opposed to relocation.
He did not deny the fact however, that in the future a relocation may happen. Last year he told Fijian media that: “Our [Kiribati] people will have to move as the tides have reached our homes and villages.”
“This is the last resort, there’s no way out of this one,” President Tong added.
Kiribati may soon have to turn to that last resort. Some of it’s 32 coral atolls, which straddle the equator over 1,350,000 square miles of ocean, are already disappearing beneath the waves. Beefing up these land formations artificially could be an option, but unless the international community provides the funding it cannot be done. Kiribati does not have the resources needed to finance such ambition.
The threat posed by rising sea levels is not only economic, but if Kiribati ends up relocating its’ citizens will lose their patrimony and their culture.
It sounds problematic, but it will be a reality if the trend of ice melting does not slow down or completely stop. And it’s not only Kiribati that is facing this danger, there are more island-nations on the brink.
The Marshall Islands, another nation in the Pacific, is facing the same risk. Rising sea levels translate to frequent floods, engulfing their farmlands with salt deposits that make crops and even coconut trees unable to grow. Rising seas erode coastlines as well, which means just like Kiribati, the Marshall Islands are also losing land.
“We’ve already lost some island atolls. On others the rising sea is destroying homes, washing away coffins and skeletons from graves,” says Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands. “Now with every full moon the high tides brings salt water into our streets. We’re moving further inland but can’t move much further.”
Maldives is another nation that is experiencing the menacing effects of melting ice glaciers. This island nation in the Indian Ocean is a popular tourist spot, but unfortunately has an expiration date. Scientists predict the country will be gone before the end of the century.
Several islands belonging to Palau in the South Pacific are also eroding away. And Fiji, the nation Kiribati is hoping to take refuge in, is also facing a threat itself. Although at no risk of elimination like its’ island neighbors, many of the country’s towns are being flooded frequently and many of their atolls are also eroding.
The nations of Tuvalu, Micronesia and Naura are also all facing devastation. All these nations at risk are small chain of islands with very small economies and of negligible international influence. Surviving this disaster is far beyond their capabilities and will require the help of the developed world.
Yet this is the great irony in all this, the very reason why these countries are facing this conundrum in the first place is because of the developed world and their habit of utilizing the skies as a dumping ground.
In 2012, a conference on climate change was held in Bangkok, Thailand. The representative of Nauru, Ambassador Marlene Moses shamed industrialized nations in her speech.
“The news from Antarctica should be sobering to anyone from a coastal region around the world. I can tell you personally it has been very upsetting to witness what seems like an indifference to the plight of small islands.”
Indifference may be warranted. Data shows that the industrialized nations who are the main drivers of climate change have been far from committed to reducing carbon emissions.
The world’s leading carbon emitter is China, despite only being a distant second a few years ago. Since the year 2000 China has increased carbon emission by 171%, today emitting more than both the United States and Canada combined.
India has also upped their CO2 emissions, pushing Russia into fourth place and taking the number three spot among the biggest polluters. The United States, a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, has made several efforts to conform to the targets set by the protocol and has indeed scaled back on their carbon emissions.
However, it’s fair to say that more should be expected from them – since they traditionally take the leadership role in many other aspects. If America pushes to become a military leader and an leader of innovation, can’t they also push to become an environmental leader?
Even Germany, which is a pioneer country in utilizing renewable energy sources has backtracked on their progress and today is increasingly returning to the use of fossil fuels and coal-powered energy.
It’s cringe-worthy hearing the argument from the side of these developed nations when pressed on the issue of climate change. Their reasons usually range from climate change denials to pointing out that other countries are worse pollutants than themselves. Overall, their insecurities about responding to climate change stems from the substantial losses they will incur when a shift is made to utilize renewable energies.
But these losses do not have to hurt, a gradual phase-by-phase transition from non-renewable sources can be done with negligible consequences. In fact, the World Bank recently released a study stating that a shift to renewable energy will actually improve the overall global economy as more jobs will be added, health risks are lessened and abnormal weather patterns caused by climate changed can be stopped.
Thankfully, several countries have taken the initiative to make this change happen. In Brazil, waste-to-energy innovation is heavily invested on and Maldives have shamed the industrialized world by pledging to become carbon-neutral by 2020.
Not all hope is lost, but the outlook is sad. This crisis requires urgency yet the nations who are in the best position to save the planet are the ones being complacent.
Temperatures are rising, sea levels are rising too but countries are sinking. We proudly proclaim ourselves to be the advanced era, yet the past never witnessed any civilization being sank underwater – unless you’re a climate change denier who also believes in Atlantis.
When wealthy nations are causing problems that the poorest nations suffer, unfair is not big enough of a word to describe it. Maybe if these industrialized nations who won’t budge on reducing their carbon emissions refuse to incur losses, maybe they should finance instead the relocation of the sinking nations or compensate them for their economic losses?
Perhaps if we hold them more accountable, then the industrialized world would finally notice the harmful effects of climate change.