Recently in Climate Change Category

Climate Change Emigrants

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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.

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Above, the beaches of Kiribati, a Pacific island nation threatened by rising sea levels. 
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Water, Water Everywhere...

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Today is Blog Action Day, when bloggers worldwide join together to raise awareness about an important issue. This year's topic is water, and nothing could be more relevant to islands! Even though islands are surrounded by oceans, they are plagued by problems resulting from not enough--or too much--water. 

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Staying Afloat in Copenhagen

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A cabinet meeting underwater? It sounds like a joke, but on small island nations like the Maldives, rising sea levels mean life underwater may soon be a reality. Along with other island leaders, the Maldives' President Mohamed Nasheed has been an outspoken supporter of emissions cuts and other moves to combat climate change. In October, he held a cabinet meeting 16 feet underwater to raise awareness of the rising sea levels that threaten his country. This month, he joins hundreds of other politicians, businessmen, and environmental leaders from around the world in Copenhagen, Denmark, to discuss climate change and its potentially dire consequences.

Though Karla wrote about a great blog entry about climate change a few months back, the topic is on my mind and in the news. Yesterday, the Pacific Islands Forum convened in Cairns, Australia. This article details how leaders of seven small island nations met in advance of the forum to express their concerns over the immediate threats related to climate change, and to urge leaders of developed nations to take an aggressive stance in slashing greenhouse emissions.

I recently compiled a list of the threats that small islands face due to climate change. The threats range from the obvious - coastal inundation, intrusion of salt water into fresh water drinking supplies and crops, extreme weather events - to the less obvious, yet still potentially devastating effects - damaged crops and unpredictable harvest rates, decline in fish populations due to coral bleaching and mangrove loss, increase in vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria, economic insecurity and decreased tourism revenue, and cultural tensions as communities are forced to relocate. On a visit to Seacology projects in Yap, Micronesia in 2007, local leaders told me of their worries regarding the likely migration of communities from an outer atoll to the main island, where resources are already stretched. While in Vanuatu in June 2009, residents spoke of disappeared coastal landmarks and boundaries, inundated by sea water.

Climate Change in Islands

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Growing up in the Philippines, tornados, hurricanes, and the floods that would follow were a common occurrence in my childhood. In the rainy season (between July to December), it would not be uncommon for low-lying areas of my island (called Panay, in the Western Visayas Region) to have floods as high as four meters. Can you imagine Katrina happening every year? During intense hurricanes, people living in these areas would be in a rush to get everything out of their houses to be taken to higher ground. Anything that could be carried, including refrigerators, TV sets, etc, are immediately taken out. One time, a cousin of mine was in such a mad rush to leave that he forgot his pregnant wife in the bedroom (he came back to get her of course). More recently, people back home have also been complaining to me about the intense heat. When I visited about a year and a half ago, I myself noticed that the temperature was much higher than when I was living there only 5 or 6 years previous.

 

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Climate Change and Human Rights

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What I admire most about Seacology's work is that we help both island environments and island peoples. As an anthropology major, it has always been clear to me that what I value most in this world is the cultures of people--their social systems, family structures, arts, food, customs. Of course I know how important the land, sea, flora, and fauna are, but I recognize that I was attracted to Seacology because the organization works directly with people--to preserve their cultures, improve their communities, and protect their ecosystems.

Children of Sila Village, Fiji.JPGSo I was delighted to read that the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a study to examine the impact of climate change on human experience. The Maldives, Fiji, and Tuvalu were among those island nations that brought this proposal to the Human Rights Council. The decision promotes the same kind of culturally-aware environmentalism as Seacology's projects and is a landmark decision that will elevate the attention to climate change and all its effects.