What Happens When Your Country Drowns?As if this was never expected ...
Meet the people of Tuvalu, the world's first climate refugees
It's a bright, balmy Sunday afternoon and I'm driving through the western outskirts of Auckland, New Zealand, the kind of place you never see on a postcard. No majestic mountains, no improbably green pastures—just a bland tangle of shopping malls and suburbia. I follow a dead-end street, past a rubber plant, a roofing company, a drainage service, and a plastics manufacturer, until I reach a white building behind a chain-link fence. Inside is a kernel of a nation within a nation—a sneak preview of what a climate change exodus looks like.
This is the Tuvalu Christian Church, the heart of a migrant community from what may be the first country to be rendered unlivable by global warming (...).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that low-lying island nations are particularly endangered by rising seas and will also be buffeted by more frequent and more violent storms. Already, warmer ocean temperatures are eating away at the coral reefs that form Tuvalu's archipelagic spine. Tuvaluans themselves point to more tangible indicators of trouble—the "king tides" that increasingly sluice their homes, the briny water oozing up into the "grow pits" where they used to cultivate taro and other vegetables. As Julia Whitty predicted in this magazine in 2003, the prognosis has become sufficiently dire that the residents of Tuvalu and other low-lying atoll islands "are beginning to envision the wholesale abandonment of their nations." Around one-fifth of the 12,000-some inhabitants have already left, most bound for New Zealand, where the Tuvaluan community has nearly tripled since 1996.
(...) Tuvalu and other low-lying island countries like Kiribati and the Maldives are, in one sense, the starkest example of how climate change will reshape the world. But Auckland's Tuvaluan community also represents a best-case scenario—so far their migration has been orderly, and their numbers are minuscule compared with the millions of impoverished people who live in global warming hot spots like Africa's Sahel, coastal Bangladesh, and Vietnam's deltas. Koko Warner, an expert on climate change and migration at the United Nations University in Bonn, says the displacement of those populations could be "a phenomenon of a scope not experienced in human history."
Yet little has been done to prepare. In fact, our understanding of exactly how global warming will affect people—how many lives will be threatened, and what we could do to avert a succession of humanitarian disasters—remains extremely rudimentary. As Bill Gates has caustically observed, "It is interesting how often the impact of climate change is illustrated by talking about the problems the polar bears will face rather than the much greater number of poor people who will die unless significant investments are made to help them."
Which brings me to reiterate:
Yes, the planet will do fine in the long run, regardless of what we do to its climate cycle. After all, Earth and life on it did so after an extinction-level event some 65 million years ago - although the dinosaurs didn't do so well.The perfect storm indeed ...
Consequently, fighting Global Climate Change is not so much about saving the planet, but rather about saving ourselves and our future generations.
So, the final question is: fighting Global Warming - can Humanity afford not to?