Friday, January 11, 2008

Paradise Lost: Global Warming Threatens Tuvalu

Al Gore has been warning us in his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” about “climate change refugees,” Tuvalu can be a case in point.

By: Vanessa Uy

If you want proof on the realities of global warming, look no further than Tuvalu. This small Pacific Island nation of about 12,000 inhabitants have already been trying to cope with the effects of sea level rise caused by global warming. Sea- water is already seeping into vulnerable parts of Tuvalu’s ground water table, damaging the nation’s corn and sugarcane farms. As the world’s 4th smallest nation, Tuvalu’s 25 square kilometer land area is principally composed of 9 atolls that barely rises more than 4 meters above sea level. Even during the normal high tide cycle threaten this country with sea- water encroachment, let alone during storm surges of tropical cyclones. Even back in 1989, the UN identified Tuvalu as a nation most likely at risk when global sea levels rise.

Economically, not so much has changed since Tuvalu was granted independence by Great Britain in 1968. Despite having signed a trade deal with Australia and New Zealand back in 1980, the average annual income hovers at around US$1,000 a year. If industrialized nations won’t do their part to combat global warming, Tuvalu’s citizens might become the first batch of “climate change refugees” in search of a new homeland. The two closest nations that have the resources to provide sanctuary to Tuvalu’s citizens if the sea level rise gets worse are Australia and New Zealand. Since Australia and New Zealand has stringent immigration laws which require anyone applying for citizenship should earn on average US$12,000 a year to be safely admitted, or has a bank account with an average daily balance of US$10,000. Unless Australia and New Zealand will amend the rules regarding their immigration policy, this rules out the majority of Tuvalu’s citizens.

Maybe it’s time for the West to give back what they have taken from the Pacific Islanders during the last 500 years or so of oceanographic exploration and colonization. Even during World War II, the Pacific Islanders were instrumental in making possible the Allied victory against the Imperial Japanese expansion. There’s more here at steak than electoral votes when the politicians of industrialized nations adopt a stronger stance on climate protection which might not be popular to the “industry lobbyists.” Or do the world’s top polluters need to wait for international opinion to exert moral pressure.

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