Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tuvalu being threatened from inland by sea level rise

Tuvalu is one of the smallest island state in the world with a population of around 12,000. Although it joined the United Nations only in 2000, it has a human history spanning more than 3,000 years – with a far richer culture and heritage than many of the countries which now maintain the fate of the world in the hands of their gas-guzzling consumers. How could these islanders survive for the last 3,000 years without sinking, and it took the developed nations of today just under 200 years to turn this island state into a swimming pool? These islanders have survived typhoons (hurricanes), King tides and other natural extreme events, but nothing like what is happening now.

Watch this 2008 BBC report by clicking on this link:

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/nol/newsid_7200000/newsid_7204500/7204507.stm?bw=nb&mp=wm&asb=1&news=1&ms3=50&ms_javascript=false&bbcws=2# )

This phenomenon does not arise from waves eroding the coastline, but the sea emerging from inland. What happens is that when the sea level rises, whether as a result of tidal movement or the incremental increase in sea level rise, it penetrates directly into the soil and surfaces right in the middle of the island. And the Tuvaluans will tell you – this did not happen before, and it is getting worse. The impacts are not only visual but also economic. Tuvaluans depend upon agriculture to survive, and crops do not grow in seawater contaminated soils.

Naturally skeptics cannot deny such observations, but they deny that it is connected to the CO2 emissions of the developed world. The bottom line is we have heard all these denials before - remember acid rain, the ozone layer, and so on. The IPCC report, in its fourth installment, makes an even stronger argument that climate change is evidently happening and it is caused by human interference with the planet.

With 3,000 years of history behind them, the Tuvaluans are a determined nation. Many refuse the notion that one day they will have to evacuate, and some entrepreneurs have even considered reducing the islands greenhouse emissions by investing in renewable energy. Indeed recent human development on the island has also aggravated coastal erosion, exploited certain resources and pollution. But the government there is moving to address these local environmental issues based upon wise practices and best available technologies, the biogas project which generates energy for the islanders using pig manure being one example.

On the island of Tuvalu there is indeed a movement to show the world how to live more sustainably and adapt to climate change. Let us give them another 3,000 years, not 50 years. The world should be ashamed, having gone to the moon and back and yet let one of the planet most blessed people and culture turn into world’s first climate refugees.

Politicians and industry need to act to support adaptation in small island states and low-lying regions of the planet, and they need to act now.

Further Reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuvalu - WIKI on Tuvalu.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7203313.stm - Jan 22nd 2008 BBC report on Tuvalu

http://www.juriaanbooij.com/ - This is an art and documentary project by a Tuvaluan (Juriaan Booij) to show what is happening to his country and how he feels the world should respond.

http://www.int-res.com/articles/cr/12/c012p137.pdf - a very interesting paper by Prof. Nobuo Nimura

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