Tag Archives: global sea level

Denying, not waving: image of the day and the fate of island nations

A wonderful cartoon from yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald:

Source: Fairfax Media

Source: Fairfax Media

Even more important, an article highlighting the plight of small island nations:

The delegation of parliamentarians from four tropical Pacific Islands nations braved the Canberra cold last week, and that wasn’t the only climate shock they suffered. 

They watched the impressive intellectual exchange of question time in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and then moved on. But almost as soon as they left, Parliament started to debate a motion on whether the science of man-made climate change was real. This came as a bit of a jolt to the legislator visiting from Kiribati, a country of about 100,000 people on 33 small, low-lying islands strung along 5000 kilometres of the equator. 

“Climate change is real in our places,” Rimeta Beniamina, a government MP and vice-chairman of his parliament’s climate change committee, told me, expressing surprise at what was going on in the chamber a few metres away. 

“A few years ago it was not taken very seriously. But now quite a few villages are experiencing hardship. Beaches are eroding, houses are falling down, crops are damaged and livelihoods are destroyed. 

“The intrusion of salt water is very evident. The sea level may be rising millimetres a year, but it is still rising. The strong winds and rising tides are the worst part. Once the salt water enters the land, that’s it. Trees are falling along the coast, crops dying, pigs and chickens are affected.” 

A US study published at the weekend in the journal Nature Geoscience found the global sea level had risen by 16.8 millimetres between 2005 and 2011. 

Clark Wilson, a co-author of the study and geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, says: “There was an increase in the melting rate in Greenland starting in 2005 and that is probably the underlying story why,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The academic study was funded by NASA and the US National Science Foundation. 

The rising seas are whipped up by increasingly severe El Nino weather cycles, damaging the coastlines of countries including Kiribati, pronounced kee-ree-bas. 

“Some communities have been forced to move backward from the coast,” Beniamina says. “The problem is, there is not much land to move back to.” 

People are jamming into the overcrowded main island, Tarawa. Its centre has a population density estimated at three times that of Tokyo, says an April report by Australian journalist Bernard Lagan in the Global Mail. Fresh water supplies are at risk and there is not enough land to bury the dead. 

Kiribati President Anote Tong has declared a policy of orderly evacuation that he calls “migration with dignity”. The nation is a proverbial canary in the carbon emission coal mine, and the prognosis is unhappy.  

 

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