From flooding to severe
storms, the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent.
Although it is nearly impossible to link specific incidents directly to climate
change, a recent
study suggests that rising global temperatures and the ensuing changes in
weather patters greatly increase the odds of extreme weather events such as
this year's torrential
rains in Australia.
Many islanders have long
been speaking out about the disproportionate harm these extreme weather events
and other effects of climate change will have on their homelands. With miles of
coastlines, islands are highly sensitive to rising water levels and stronger
ocean storms. At the same time, the geographic isolation of many islands makes
them home to numerous endemic species, found nowhere else on earth, that are
quickly endangered by changes in their habitat or climate. But the people who
inhabit the thousands of islands around the globe are also endangered. In
low-lying islands, rising sea levels mean less space in the near future and an
unhappy eternity next door to Atlantis.
Above, the beaches of Kiribati, a Pacific island nation threatened by rising sea levels.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
The president of the Maldives drew international attention to his nation's plight in 2009 with an underwater cabinet meeting. Rising no more than seven feet above sea level, the Maldives is the world's lowest lying country. Now, the leader of another island nation is taking steps against climate change. Kiribati consists of 32 atolls and one raised coral island spread over 1.3 million square miles in the central tropical Pacific Ocean. Recognizing that his country's future is in peril, President Anote Tong, has developed several initiatives to promote what he calls "migrating with dignity," or preparing Kiribati's people for a permanent future in exile. The Kiribati Australia Nursing Initiative is one such initiative, which sends Kiribati citizens to study nursing in Brisbane, Australia. Although leaving their homeland is difficult, many students appreciate the opportunity to develop tools to financially support themselves and their families away from Kiribati before they are forced out by rising sea levels.
Adaptive responses like President Tong's are crucial to the survival of island cultures, as well as their sensitive wildlife and ecosystems, as climate change continues to bring severe weather, flooding, and other challenges to islands around the world.