Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Save the Kiribatis

The President of the South Pacific island nation of Kiribati has outlined an unprecedented plan that would scatter his people throughout the nations of the world before rising sea levels submerge the islands they have called home for centuries.

Kiribati was first settled by early Austronesian-speaking peoples before the 1st century A.D. Fijians and Tongans arrived around the 14th century and merged with the older groups to form a unique Micronesian culture.

President Anote Tong said that the sea level rise over the next century predicted by scientists would submerge much of the land on which they live while salinization of ground water would make even more of it uninhabitable.

Kiribati is made up of 33 islands, mostly coral atolls, that straddle the equator in the vast South Pacific Ocean.

"Most islands are so narrow that if you stand on the ocean side and shout, people on the lagoon side will hear you," he said.

In 1995, Kiribati moved the international date line to the east so it would be the first country to welcome the dawn of the Third Millennium on Jan. 1, 2000. In 1999, the tiny nation gained UN membership.

Kiribati faces oblivion because of climate change. Tong's plan to relocate 100,000 people was born of his realization that the situation is urgent. Unusual natural events such as higher tides, coral bleaching and a recent 12-month drought have already been observed by residents of the island chain.

Although Kiribati is one of the world's lowest emitters of greenhouse gases, it will be one of the first areas to feel the effects of changes caused by industrialized nations. President Tong is frustrated that those nations are interested only in the economic impact of curbing global warming. If scientists are right, his country faces a humanitarian crisis and the world refuses to notice.

"While it may be a matter of economics for some of you, for us it's not economics; it's a matter of survival," he said.

Though it may be too late to head off the sea level rise that would spell disaster for Kiribati, Tong urged other nations to take preventive measures. Kiribati has created the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, a California-sized ocean wilderness of pristine coral reefs, underwater mountains and fish populations threatened by over-fishing and climate change. PIPA conserves one of the Earth's last intact oceanic ecosystems in a nearly uninhabited region of abundant marine and bird life.

"This is our contribution to humanity. We are waiting for a contribution from any country of a piece of land so we can move to it," Tong said.

He knows that this is unlikely to happen, and that anger won't help the situation. His plan provides for groups of Kiribati citizens, perhaps 1,000 per year, to receive job training and seek skilled jobs in other countries. They would form a dispersed resource that others could turn to as the environmental situation worsens at home. Job training is important because it would allow the dispersal to occur with as much dignity as possible so that his people will not become environmental refugees.

Implementation of his plan has already begun with small groups of nurses moving to Australia and New Zealand for further training.

"Hopefully, our people will spread out so that when the time comes they will assist with the integration of the rest of the people into their communities, and also make it easier on the host countries."

I think of the many people in our own country displaced by Hurricane Katrina who became environmental refugees in one day while the world refused to notice. And I think of President Tong and his people knowing that their beloved home for thousands of years will one day lie under the ocean, their culture extinct as they try to assimilate into the diaspora of nations.

It seems that we are constantly given opportunities to help each other and to heal the earth while we respond with indifference and weak economic excuses.

I know it's naive and unrealistic, but I don't believe that any society should advance at such enormous cost to others. The industrialization of one nation should not be allowed to spell doom for another. I fail to see why scientists cannot find ways to stem climate change. If we have the technology to bring about such drastic conditions, we possess the ability to reverse them.

As self-appointed stewards of the earth, we need to make a serious commitment to protect, nurture and repair it. Now. There is no more time to waste.

The waters are rising and we are our only life boat.


Nick said...

That's a sad but heartening story. Sad because their nation and its beauty will eventually be submerged for ever, heartening because they have constructive plans to abandon the islands and settle elsewhere before it's too late.

A salutary example to the rest of us, particularly governments, that we're doing shockingly little to prepare for a possibly catastrophic future. In Britain especially little is being done about the increasing number of floods that cause widespread devastation.

As you say, the big economies are callously indifferent to the fate of small countries like Kiribati. And you're surely right that if human technology has created this mess, then human technology must have a solution.

Cecilieaux said...

Thanks for calling this to our attention.

Glamourpuss said...

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Our way of life in the West is entirely unsustainable and I wonder when we will actually accept this. The arrogance of the Chinese and US administrations is a travesty - they emit more greenhouse gases than anyone else on Earth and yet seem unwilling to really commit to changing that.


Anonymous said...

It's not jst sad but a sin. And s overwhelming - I think that may account for some of the indifference. Because the changes that need to be made are sweeping and require sacrifice. But they surely need to be made.

The CEO said...

To extend your point, at the rate that the polar ice caps are melting raising the sea levels, New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, and most cities sitting by the Ocean will be underwater in 50 years. Sorry, that included San Francisco and Los Angeles.

thailandchani said...

A big hearty AMEN!!!


furiousBall said...

that is amazing, can you imagine the leader of your country describing this? that has to be crazy. well, i do agree with you and i hope more and more nations begin to pay attention

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I had the same thoughts when I heard about this, overwhelming sadness for the people of that country and enormous admiration for the proactive pragmatism of President Tong.

It's unconscionable that an entire land mass should cease to exist because of the selfishness of populations thousands of miles away.


Glad I could help.


It's true. People in highly industrialized nations have grown so very spoiled with technological goodies that we don't really want to upset our own comfortable apple cart. It's too easy to ignore the pain of others when they are far away.


Who shall cast the first sacrifice? We have become complacent to a terrifying degree and have pushed Nature beyond the point of no return. It's truly sad what we have wrought.


It's horrifying. And all the cities you mention as well as many others are dear to me personally.

All the Native American prophesies exhort us to get to high ground. I would take that to mean morally as well as physically.


I know that telling you these things is preaching to the choir.


The enormity of it is astounding - deliberately preparing to dismantle an entire civilization is brave and devastating but most of all, horribly sad.

leslie said...

You might find this link of interest.
Eve Mosher's "High Water Line" art project showed how much of Manhattan would be under water if the sea level rose by a mere 10 feet.


Jocelyn said...

I want our president-elect to read your blog. I want him to make decisions based on what you tell him.

You need to be part of his Blogger Cabinet.

Thank you for teaching me so much.

Molly said...

What a wise and caring president they have......

NoRegrets said...

I'm glad that they are planning ahead. Shows intelligence. And it is very sad on many fronts.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Excellent post, Hearts.

It is like unraveling a thread from a tapestry that will culminate in the loss of the whole piece.

I'm so glad that you posted this, it's imperative to educate and make everyone aware of the danger our world faces.

I posted about this exact same tragedy on Maldives, just a few months ago. Such a beautiful place, inhabited by people who've been there for thousands of years, and who, by no fault of their own, will be homeless within a century.

It's horrific.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Ms. Mosher drew some of her lines in the very neighborhood in Greenwich Village where I used to live. Her work is very jarring, an incredibly serious wake-up call.


He has a Blogger Cabinet?

What Mr. Obama does have is a website called change.gov, which welcomes comments and suggestions from all of us. He is already behaving like a President for the new millennium.


Yes, absolutely. He is dealing with the worst possible kind of life-or-death scenario with intelligence and creativity.

No Regrets,

Here in the West we tend to focus on our woes (if we are not in total denial) but President Tong and his people are focusing on solutions.

There is much to learn from this example.


A good analogy, unraveling a tapestry until nothing is left of it.

Denial can no longer sustain us in the face of such brutal truths. Our reckless chickens are coming home to roost, but most unfairly on those who have not contributed to creating the mess.

Our complacent society and other so-called First World nations tend to think that nothing matters if it does not directly affect us. I believe that a shift is finally taking place as more people understand that everything, everywhere, does affect us because we are all one.

All my life I have been fascinated by stories of Atlantis and Lemuria, but I really hate to see Kiribati and the Maldives become lost civilizations.

The Fool said...

Kirbati is not alone. The same is happening right here at home. There are native villages in Alaska that need to relocate because of global warming, too. This is the new manifest destiny. Do you know if Kirbati is a vernacular culture...or have they already transitioned to a capitalist culture? Such a transition is a death in itself. May the Kirbati people find a way to keep their culture and language alive.

meggie said...

It is a pity your thoughtful post could not be broadcast throughout the world, to encourage Foreign governments to think about these people & their plight.

Franki said...

Wow, I simply cannot imagine being the leader of this country and have to think in these terms. What an amazing man.

Unfortunately, man is mostly a selfish species, and won't even admit there is a problem until it affects them directly, such as high gas prices. I think America finally sat up and took notice and voted for change, not because we felt empathy, but we were hit in our pocketbooks...but at least we did it.

Thanks for an enlightening post.

Schmutzie said...

You are being featured on Five Star Friday!

Anonymous said...

I was reading of this recently in a National Geographic magazine. It showed mathematical tables of the rising water and the rate it would anvace, in comparison with the history (known) of the inhabitants.

Ian Lidster said...

Hear-hear, my dear. And, such a beautiful spot to be so imperilled. As you know, I love and am mystified by the the South Pacific, and always long to go back. There is a certain spiritual home aspect for me, so I am always distressed to hear of impending disaster.

Say It said...

its unimaginable that we've gotten to this point. Its even more unimaginable that the world is ignoring this President and his peoples plight.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

No Fool,

It's not surprising that Alaska would be among the first places affected.

Sadly, the world doesn't notice much when it's indigenous peoples who disappear, but when NYC and San Francisco slide into the sea, there will be much wringing of hands.


We really do need a giant wake-up call, but it's terribly unfair that a society that has never contributed to the problem should be punished for it.


I agree with you. There is far too much Me-Firstness in the world and far too little thinking of others and their basic rights.


Thank you so much! I have no idea how my post came to be on your wonderful site, which I didn't know about but have now bookmarked.

I so appreciate being included, and also your visit here.


That's an interesting approach. I'm going to check it out, thanks!


And as YOU know, I share your love of the South Pacific although I have never been there. It always seemed that I belonged there, which I attribute to past-life yearnings.

The impending situation is tragic indeed.

Say it,

Unimaginable on both counts, but most sadly, true.

I would gladly give them some land if I had it. Maybe one of the world's billionaires who owns a large island will donate it.

Jo said...

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated... As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness... No man is an island, entire of itself... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." ... John Donne

When will we ever learn.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Isn't it interesting that everyone is familiar with quotes from Donne, like "No man is an island," and Hemingway took "For Whom the Bell Tolls" for a book title, but still the message is mostly lost?

When will we ever learn indeed?

Maria said...

Thanks for blogging about this. It is hard for us to acknowledge this kind of thing. We like to think that since it doesn't really affect us, it can be tossed aside. The thing is, it WILL matter to us and our children in due time and it is long time we sat up and paid attention.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


The great chief Seattle said to the white conquerors of his land: "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."

Aho. It is high time we began to take his prescient words to heart.

MsLittlePea said...

I had heard about this. Probably from watching the Discovery Channel. I hadn't realized it got this bad. Or maybe as always it was just out of sight out of mind.....

On a limb with Claudia said...

Wow. It's hard to believe how many people believe that global warming isn't happening. Yet, you see a situation like this - and they deal with the reality every single day.

It's sad that we are so caught up in being 'right' that we forget that we are human first.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Sweet Pea,

You live at sea level, too. It's unimaginable that those lovely beaches, rich in shark's teeth, could disappear within a few years.


They disbelieve because it's so inconvenient to face the truth and deal with it. What is shocking to me is that so many people seem to have no compunctions about leaving a used up and utterly destroyed earth to future generations.

If mankind doesn't develop a conscience really soon, posterity is doomed.

Jonah K. Haslap said...

I'm back.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Welcome back, Stranger. I was about to send a posse of muppets to find you.

Los Angelista said...

Remember that scene in An Inconvenient Truth where Al Gore has the earth on one side and the bag of gold on the other? I feel like so many companies and governments consistently choose the gold in this materialistic age. This is the consequence.

Sometimes when I'm out at the beach here in LA, I wonder if the same thing could happen here. I suppose we can never say never.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Sadly, most people choose the gold. The few who don't, we call enlightened.

All my life, I've heard of prophesies about California falling into the sea. It's like living with a timer that is set to go off but we don't know when. Cheerful thought for the day, isn't it?