Kiribati boy tries to negotiate passage in deep waters which will soon inundate his island
A recent visit to Barbados (in April ) reminded us again of the extent to which the island is at risk of losing its precious beaches, especially on the east and southeast coast.. With each passing year more coastal land is reclaimed due to the inexorably rising sea and now- unlike thirty years ago - you won't find one single climate change skeptic.
The degree of ocean reclamation of beach near the Atlantis Hotel had our heads spinning, as we were informed by the proprietor it had become much worse since our last buffet lunch there in 2010. He since had to move the pavilion and restaurant tables some twenty five feet further away from the beach which also reduced the total size of the area so more diners (who wished to dine outside) had to be packed together.
Janice's older brother, a mechanical engineer, expressed the opinion of all of us in the party: "I just don't see how any of these climate change deniers have any credibility any more. It seems to me they all ought to be hooted out on a rail. "
Indeed. But Barbados isn't the only place enduring loss of beachfront land and even future inundation from rising seas. Look also at the island off Kiribati - a collection of 23 coral islands and reef atolls in the South Pacific. See e.g. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/22/kiribati-president-buying-land_n_5860064.html
In a recent Sunday New York Times article (p. A11) we learned how the future has now crashed into Kiribati and big time. Fortunately for them, no climate deniers like Kort Patterson were around to suffer like the islanders are. But as the piece informs us, for years climate scientists (real ones) has been predicting that much of the island of Kiribati proper would become uninhabitable - and within decades. This was directly because of an onslaught of problems linked directly to climate change.
But the islanders, much like the current climate deniers, paid little heed. They took all the advance warning with so many grains of salt and probably even believed they were coming from "alarmists", or rich white guys who merely wanted to drive them from their tropical island paradise. Now it appears a "tidal surge" last winter delivered a wake up call. Also known as a "king tide" the event shocked islanders much like the recent deluges in West Virginia, Texas and other U.S. locales have shocked residents there. The Times quotes one pastor (of the Kiribati Uniting Church) who exclaimed "It shocked us. We realized, okay, maybe climate change is real."
To set the context, while the Pacific island nations are scattered and small, with tiny populations, they are sort of the 'canary in the coal mine' in terms of rising seas from climate change. Indeed, these nations - in many ways like Barbados and other Caribbean island nations - are among the world's most vulnerable to the vicissitudes of climate change, especially in the economic and physical sphere. In Barbados, this has led to a general program to educate average citizens about the risks from climate change. Already, these risks have been visible in the recurring invasions of red algae and a certain species of knotty seaweed on southeast coastal beaches, such as Crane beach. The economic downside is obvious in driving tourists away.
It is a travesty of sorts that while world powers like the U.S. conduct summit meetings to negotiate carbon reduction, even if they aren't entirely successful like the Paris climate summit last December, nothing similar is being done for the micro nations like Barbados or Kiribati, the places where the most extreme climate consequences will strike first.
This is extremely dismaying, and as we beheld in Bim, has the political establishment anxious given how the island is already suffering from credit downgrades. Where does a tiny island state with a GDP roughly the same as Alex Gonzalez payroll on the NY Yankees go to get badly needed funds to reclaim beaches lost to the rising seas? To the IMF at 25% interest? It simply isn't in the cards, not when there are so many other issues in play including how to ensure the island's water quality and protect it from possible sea water incursion.
Meanwhile, in Kiribati, as in Barbados, climate scientists warn that rising seas are also likely to worsen erosion, trigger groundwater shortages and increase the intrusion of salt water into freshwater supplies. Then there are the impacts from natural invasions that are accompaniments of climate change. In Barbados there are two: 1) ever more Sahara dust clouding the skies and causing respiratory distress in residents - the dust arriving in greater concentrations due to droughts in Africa, and 2) the arrival of tropical pests including giant African land snails that consume vegetation as well as the Zika virus and dengue fever. Again, as Janice's brother Anthony put it "Only an idiot or uneducated twit would believe climate change isn't real, or isn't human-engendered."
What to do? Barbados top Minister for the Environment is already drawing up plans if the worse comes to the worst, including evacuations of affected citizens to other (higher altitude) parts of the island. In the case of Kiribati we learn (ibid.) it has actually been "drawing up plans for its demise". In doing so, the government has "been promoting migration with dignity" and has been urging residents to acquire employable skills before they move abroad. Already, the government has "bought up nearly 6,000 acres of land in Fiji" - an island nation more than one thousand miles distant. This is as a potential refuge given Fiji is at a higher elevation and has a more stable shoreline.
Yes, some people in the world, not so blessed as to inhabit rarefied ivory towers of unaffected areas, don't have the luxury to pen codswallop about "climate alarmists". The threat to their very way of life is real and very personal, involving how they can live and where they can actually survive. But one thing is true: eventually everyone on the planet will be affected, even the most hidebound, stubborn deniers - who might well be yelping "There is no climate change it's just a big conspiracy!" even as they are carried away by rising seas.