For those people and countries that face sea water inundation in the coming years, Orsos Island and similar island designs could pose as an interesting strategy and possible solution. While costly, radical, and still a far cry from their natural habitat, this article in today’s gizmag.com provides an interesting perspective (and great photos) of what floating island homes may look like in the years to come.
“Floating islands are environmentally friendly and leave a zero footprint after its lifespan, and opens opportunities where there is a scarcity of land,” Jasper Mulder, General Manager of Dutch Docklands Maldives told Gizmag. “They are the answer to urban limitations and climate change. It secures a safe and sustainable future where conventional building methods fail.”
See full story here: http://www.gizmag.com/orsos-floating-island-superyacht/22771/
Political Turmoil in a Sinking Paradise- Maldives President and Environmental Activist Mohamed Nasheed Resigns
How does the survival for those on the drowning islands depend on politics, diplomacy, and the political stability of their respective countries? Environmental activist Mohamed Nasheed, until today President of the Maldivian coral atoll nation, resigned from the presidency today amid rioting. Time will tell what happens to the political structure and well being of his country in the wake of this news. But at the very least, this illustrates the tenuous nature of the small victories that the drowning islands experience as they fight for climate justice.
The full story is available here: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/02/07/world/asia/maldives-president-resigns/?hpt=hp_t1
Strategically located in the Indian Ocean but extremely poor, the country is threatened by rising sea levels. Nasheed once held a Cabinet meeting underwater, with ministers wearing scuba gear, to highlight the problem.
Maldives is also grappling with a very likely possibility that it will go under water if the current pace of climate change keeps raising sea levels.
Most of it lies just 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) above sea
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change has forecast a rise in sea levels of at least 7.1 inches (18 cm) by the end of the century.
Male is already protected by sea walls. But creating a similar barrier around the rest of the country will be cost-prohibitive.
Soon after his election, Nasheed raised the possibility of finding a new homeland for the country’s approximately 400,000 residents.
He is the subject of an upcoming documentary, “The Island President,” that tells the story of his efforts to raise awareness of climate change.
If my yard flooded consistently, would I still mow it?
This is a question I ask myself often (basically since my fascination and concern for drowning islands began)- and for some reason, it’s usually in the context of lawn-mowing. When thinking about or writing on the subject of drowning islands, I often linger on the psychological and motivational impacts that climate change has on the hardest/soonest hit countries. If you live on an atoll, do you care about things like mowing the lawn (despite increasing floods), repainting the kitchen (even though you’ve heard your house may eventually be underwater), re-tile the floor (why? It’ll just flood the next time a storm comes through…)?
So, imagine my surprise (and delight!) when I first stumbled upon a Marshallese man trimming his lawn. Then another. And another. It appears that the Marshallese take great pride in even the appearance of their property, despite the worsening environmental struggles they face. This characteristic (persevering motivation) actually fits a theme of the Marshallese: we are not leaving. Come hell or high water, we are not abandoning our country. The Marshallese are inexplicably, tangibly, and holistically interconnected with their physical islands. As a people they remain committed to climate-solutions as opposed to throwing in the towel. In fact, a section of the RMI Constitution reads:
“All we have and are today as a people, we have received as a sacred heritage which we pledge ourselves to safeguard and maintain, valuing nothing more dearly than our rightful home on the islands within the traditional boundaries of this archipelago.”
I have an area in my yard that struggles- it’s this prime piece of side-yard real estate for me, but yet it lies lower than everything that surrounds it, so it floods and just generally struggles. My husband and I have tried various things throughout the years to improve it’s state, to no avail. I have thought about throwing in the towel on that particular section on many occasions, but I believe I have found my motivation to keep mowing, so to speak, in the Marshallese.
I have a special place in my heart for vulnerable communities that sit precariously above the water- the atoll nations of the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Kiribati, in particular. But seeing my first atoll-nation grave-sites today made an emotional impression that I will not soon forget.
What if our Existence was Threatened by Island Nation Action? Nauru’s Compelling Address to the UN Security Council
Security Council Open Debate“Maintenance of international peace and security: the interdependence between security and development.”Statement by H.E President Marcus Stephen, M.P.on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, Maldives, Seychelles, and Timor-Leste
20 July 2011, New York, New YorkI would like to begin by thanking Germany for hosting this important debate on climate change and its implications for the maintenance of international peace and security.
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States – the most vulnerable region to climate change – namely Fiji, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Vanuatu, and my country, the Republic of Nauru, as well as the countries of Maldives, Seychelles, and Timor-Leste.
Last month, the International Energy Agency announced that, in 2010, carbon dioxide emissions reached their highest level in history. Last year also tied for the hottest year on record and the volume of Arctic sea ice dropped to its lowest level since measurements began. All while catastrophic droughts, forest fires, and floods wreaked havoc on countries around the world. Scientists are now projecting that seas will rise by a meter or more by the end of the century – a scale that could wipe out many small islands in the Pacific and elsewhere. This despite 20 years of negotiations to reduce green house gas emissions to a level that is safe.
We must now come to terms with an unsettling reality: there is so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that serious impacts are now unavoidable and we must prepare.
In my frustration, I often wonder where we would be if the roles were reversed. What if the pollution coming from our island nations was threatening the very existence of the major emitters? What would be the nature of today’s debate under those circumstances?
But that is not the world we live in, and for us, this is not a hypothetical exercise. Many of our countries face the single greatest security challenge of all from the adverse impacts of climate change: our survival.
It is for this reason that we have come to the Security Council today.
In climate change, our islands face dangerous and potentially catastrophic impacts that threaten to destabilize our societies and political institutions. Our food security, water security, and public safety are already being undermined. Sea level rise is eroding our coastlines and in some cases damaging critical infrastructure. Territory loss could disrupt traditional systems of land ownership and spark conflicts over this and other increasingly scarce resources. Eventually, some islands may disappear altogether, and so with it thousands of years of cultural heritage. This would force large numbers of our citizens to relocate; first internally, then across borders. Even with an ambitious new agreement to address climate change, many of these impacts are now unavoidable.
The Security Council has recognized that it has a role in preventing conflict before it occurs, not just facilitating its resolution afterward. For this reason, it has recognized the necessity to address the “root causes” of conflict: unconventional security threats that can give rise to social tension and civil unrest such as poverty and development, competition over natural resources, and HIV/AIDS. For these issues and others, the Security Council has evaluated the problems and, in concert with other organs of the United Nations, deployed a variety of tools to address them. We ask no less of you today. The international response to climate change must be comprehensive, particularly given its global nature and its implications for every aspect of society. Make no mistake, the UNFCCC is and must remain the primary forum for developing an international strategy to mitigate climate change, mobilize financial resources, and facilitate adaptation planning and project implementation. The General Assembly must continue to address the links between climate change and sustainable development.
Likewise, the Security Council has a clear role in coordinating our response to the security implications of climate change. In the 2009 UNGA resolution on climate change and its possible security implications, we agreed that all relevant organs of the United Nations, within their respective mandates, should intensify their efforts to address climate change, including its possible security implications. An effective international response requires disaster planning and preparedness, detailed vulnerability and risk assessments, more effective multilateral coordination, and preventative diplomacy.
In our conversations with Security Council members, we have heard loud and clear that you understand the security challenges faced by the Pacific and other island nations; that you stand in solidarity with us. However, solidarity demands more than sympathetic words. Demonstrate it by formally recognizing that climate change is a threat to international peace and security. It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or terrorism, and carries the potential to destabilize governments and ignite conflict. Neither have ever led to the disappearance of an entire nation, though that is what we are confronted with today.
You have also asked us what concrete steps the Security Council can take to address this issue. Allow me to tell you. The Council should start by requesting the immediate appointment of a special representative on climate and security. This individual’s primary responsibility should be to analyze projected security impacts of climate change so that the Council and all Member States can understand what lies ahead. The Council should also request an assessment of the capacity of the United Nations system to respond to these impacts, so that vulnerable countries can be assured that it is up to the task.
These proposals are the absolute minimum required to move the international community from a culture of reaction to one of preparedness. As the Secretary-General concluded in his report on climate change and its possible security implications, “[T]he international community must anticipate and prepare itself to address a number of largely unprecedented challenges posed by climate change for which existing mechanisms may prove inadequate.”
Many countries have expressed concerns about the Security Council encroaching on the mandate of the General Assembly and the UNFCCC. We understand and share this concern, which is why our proposals have been narrowly tailored to address the security implications of climate change. However, we are more concerned by the physical encroachment of the rising seas on our island nations.
The Security Council must reflect current geopolitical realities if it is to remain relevant, both in its membership and the substance of its work. We applaud its recent decision to explore the security implications of such divergent topics as development; cultural and religious tolerance; HIV/AIDS; and women, peace and security. Yet the Council would render itself irrelevant if it chose to ignore the biggest security threat of our time.
Let me be absolutely clear, the security risks of climate change are all the more reason to reach a legally binding agreement under the UNFCCC with urgency. The international community must work towards more ambitious emissions reductions from all major emitters. The current pledges are grossly inadequate and would condemn the many small Pacific and AOSIS UN Member States – and the world – to a future marked by widespread conflict and unrest.
The Security Council is entrusted with the maintenance of international peace and security under the United Nations Charter. Many of the world’s current and aspiring powers sit before me today. I urge you: do not bury your heads in the sand. Seize this opportunity to lead. I implore you to fulfill your mandate by dealing responsibly with the security implications of climate change.
Quoted from : http://www.pacificsids.org/statements/climate_change_and_security.html
Today’s New York Times op-ed below, written by “drowning island” Nauru’s president Marcus Stephen, is the perfect post for today- the first post after a brief hiatus, after traveling to Germany for the UN Climate Change negotiations. Please circulate President Stephen’s story at large- his cautionary words deserve exposure.
I FORGIVE you if you have never heard of my country.
At just 8 square miles, about a third of the size of Manhattan, and located in the southern Pacific Ocean, Nauru appears as merely a pinpoint on most maps — if it is not missing entirely in a vast expanse of blue.
But make no mistake; we are a sovereign nation, with our own language, customs and history dating back 3,000 years. Nauru is worth a quick Internet search, I assure you, for not only will you discover a fascinating country that is often overlooked, you will find an indispensible cautionary tale about life in a place with hard ecological limits.
Phosphate mining, first by foreign companies and later our own, cleared the lush tropical rainforest that once covered our island’s interior, scarring the land and leaving only a thin strip of coastline for us to live on. The legacy of exploitation left us with few economic alternatives and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and led previous governments to make unwise investments that ultimately squandered our country’s savings.
I am not looking for sympathy, but rather warning you what can happen when a country runs out of options. The world is headed down a similar path with the relentless burning of coal and oil, which is altering the planet’s climate, melting ice caps, making oceans more acidic and edging us ever closer to a day when no one will be able to take clean water, fertile soil or abundant food for granted.
Climate change also threatens the very existence of many countries in the Pacific, where the sea level is projected to rise three feet or more by the end of the century. Already, Nauru’s coast, the only habitable area, is steadily eroding, and communities in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have been forced to flee their homes to escape record tides. The low-lying nations of Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands may vanish entirely within our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Similar climate stories are playing out on nearly every continent, where a steady onslaught of droughts, floods and heat waves, which are expected to become even more frequent and intense with climate change, have displaced millions of people and led to widespread food shortages.
The changes have already heightened competition over scarce resources, and could foreshadow life in a world where conflicts are increasingly driven by environmental catastrophes.
Yet the international community has not begun to prepare for the strain they will put on humanitarian organizations or their implications for political stability around the world.
In 2009, an initiative by the Pacific Small Island Developing States, of which I am chairman, prompted the United Nations General Assembly to recognize the link between climate change and security. But two years later, no concrete action has been taken.
So I was pleased to learn that the United Nations Security Council will take up the issue tomorrow in an open debate, in which I will have the opportunity to address the body and reiterate my organization’s proposals.
First, the Security Council should join the General Assembly in recognizing climate change as a threat to international peace and security. It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or global terrorism. Second, a special representative on climate and security should be appointed. Third, we must assess whether the United Nations system is itself capable of responding to a crisis of this magnitude.
The stakes are too high to implement these measures only after a disaster is already upon us. Negotiations to reduce emissions should remain the primary forum for reaching an international agreement. We are not asking for blue helmets to intervene; we are simply asking the international community to plan for the biggest environmental and humanitarian challenge of our time.
Nauru has begun an intensive program to restore the damage done by mining, and my administration has put environmental sustainability at the center of our policymaking. Making our island whole again will be a long and difficult process, but it is our home and we cannot leave it for another one.
I forgive you if you have never heard of Nauru — but you will not forgive yourselves if you ignore our story.
I am in New York at an incredible conference – the first of its kind – where the very issues in this blog are being discussed. The conference is entitled: “Threatened Island Nations: Legal Implications of Rising Seas and a Changing Climate.” At the conference, scholars, scientists, attorneys, politicians, and people from the “drowning islands” across the world have gathered to discuss not only what is happening to these individuals and their homeland, but also what to do about it.
A few hours ago, John Silk, the Foreign Minister for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, leveled with conference-attenders in a very real, candid, and evocative manner. I would love to quote him, but I don’t write quite that fast, so the below words are as close to verbatim as I could get but at moments probably border on paraphrasing.
Foreign Minister Silk started by speaking about the experience of his people when dealing with the nuclear waste from WWII testing sites that the US established in his country. The devastation from what our country did during this testing has been well documented and lingers. On one particular occasion, when Minister Silk was working with professionals involved in the legal process that ensued, they were standing near a crater that was created by a nuclear weapon that had been capped with cement. It obviously needed to be sectioned off, and the Americans there asked something along the lines of “what do you want to put as a warning sign to prevent people from coming to this island?” The Foreign Minister’s response was compelling – Don’t ask us. You dumped this here. You need to come up with the words to warn people.
Mr. Silk then went on to compare this to the international response to small threatened islands and coastal communities. He conveyed the fact that they express knowledge as to the fact that these communities and countries are sinking, and that they realize that they have caused this (in large part), but then they ask: “What do you want to do? You’re losing your country. You’re going to have to swim, but where will you swim to?” His response: You tell us when to swim; but don’t tell us how to swim or where we can swim to… It seems to me that the emitting world is unwilling to allow us to swim to their shores.”
In closing, Foreign Minister Silk discussed the importance of putting a human face to this story- this crisis. He commented on (good and worthwhile) stories in National Geographic and similar publications that highlight climate change as it relates to erasing a species, like a bear. But what about losing a human species? Where are those stories? Foreign Minister Silk and I share our desire to identify this tragic dilemma by highlighting the beautiful people that are in peril.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to interview Janice Person- an open-hearted and dynamic individual who happens to live in recently-flooded Memphis. After I heard Janice speak about the floods on the BBC, I sought her out, and she was kind enough to entertain my follow-up questions during this difficult and somber time.
Janice’s thoughts about the peculiarities, tragedies, and mysteries surrounding a flood provide incredible insights into the plight of the drowning islands (and their inhabitants). While Janice admitted that she doesn’t necessarily “study” climate change to the degree that some others do, her witness to the events of the past several weeks shed light on the “slow-moving thing” that is “strange and surreal.”
Here are pieces of what Janice shared with me:
“There are folks that know they are the first to be flooded. Part of what happens is that this is such a slow-moving thing. It’s a bit strange and surreal. A tornado comes out of nowhere and then it’s gone. This has been building up for a very long time… People know it’s coming. It’s strange to see water coming up over a period of time- a slow progression.”
This “surreal” experience, the slow progression, that Janice spoke of reminds me of several conversations I’ve had with islanders in the front-lines of climate change and sea-level rise. That slow, gradual, lurking, pervasive knowledge that their land is disappearing seems similar to the southern experience that Janice described so well.
“There is a sense for some that they just won’t leave no matter what, that’s part of it… Some people aren’t sure where to go… For some folks, their houses flood every few years because of where they are. They love living close to the river. There’s a draw to the river. Everyone knows the Mississippi has this incredible power… There’s a sense of wanting to live closer to it… I think people get a very defined sense of place… The thing that is the weirdest to me is when people ask: ‘why would you live in a flood zone? Move!’ The flood zone is some of the most productive land in America! You choose to live somewhere for a variety of reasons… There’s a deep, inherent personal connection to where you’re from.”
As Janice shared these thoughts about a deeper, immutable sense of place and connection to home, I couldn’t help but draw strong parallels with islanders that hover just above the ocean. It’s easy to ask someone to move, but it takes more time, sensitivity, and certainly creativity to understand the powerful lure that “home” has and how we can work within that.
“Now I think more people will be aware of just how devastating the water can be. The choices that have to be made along the river with these spillways, that’s something… [rather long and fairly heavy pause here]. Mentally knowing that your home and your land is the first to be sacrificed- that’s really hard.”
I wonder what sort of sacrifices we are asking of those in far-away lands at this very moment. Our daily activities, our creature-comforts, our political and economic decisions- what impact do we have as we open our metaphorical spillway? My pictures in this post are of several beautiful, rather somber Maldivian islanders from a very small and very flat island in the Baa atoll in the Maldives- perhaps very similar to those 25,000 residents in communities on the Morganza spillway who sacrificed their homes this past week in order to spare larger cities from the destruction of the water. Be sure to visit Janice Person’s blog- http://jplovescotton.com/ -and contribute to the cleanup effort as these brave communities put their lives back together (the Salvation Army, Red Cross, and United Way all have donation links on their websites).
I can’t help connecting tsunamis, floods, an individual drowning, and the rising tide of climate change in my mind. These events share a textual, emotional, even symbolic connection. Once I commit thoughts to paper (or screen), I fully and readily admit the many differences between specific water-trauma events. Of course- the present floods in the US south are different from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which was different than Hurricane Katrina, which was unique from Japan’s recent earthquake/ tsunami/ and subsequent nuclear disaster, and these are all quite different from what climate change has and will do to small, flat islands standing alone in our oceans.
But speak with someone who has been afraid of, saddened because of, traumatized in some way because of the water, and notice that these individuals and groups speak the same language. The language is emotional, wistful, and in my opinion, the words come from someplace deep within that is reserved for water-trauma and water-trauma alone. I’m not a therapist or psychologist, but I have talked to those that fear the water in a very personal way that is almost… earned.
This week I will be writing about those that have experienced “water-trauma,” and hoping that we start to weave a web of understanding and compatibility for people across the world that have been or fear traumatic impact from water. I hope for and work towards a better global understanding and recognition of this language that those individuals speak because I believe it will build to a heightened sense of compassion for those in that are losing their land to the sea as climate changes.
I sign off today with a quote from one of this morning’s AP stories on the horrific flooding in the US South (linked below). My heart goes out to those impacted during these floods. As we listen to and respond to their stories, we start to learn a new language- one that sheds light on the plight and future of those in the “drowning islands.”
Merleen Acosta, 58, waited in line for three hours to get her sandbags filled by prisoners, then returned later in the day for more bags. Floodwaters inundated Acosta’s home when the Morganza spillway was opened in 1973, driving her out for several months. The thought of losing her home again was so stressful she was getting sick.
“I was throwing up at work,” she said.
An IPCC working group just released a report on renewable energy that brings cause for celebration on many fronts. The report is a good read for the broad spectrum range of interests among us- those that see climate change as a business opportunity for solutions-developent, to those that simply desire a stronger commitment among nations and individuals to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and to those that care deeply for the “little guy” – the “drowning islands” – and worry about their ability to survive and thrive in a changing world. The report highlights renewable energy’s ability to significantly and safely reduce climate-change causing greenhouse gas emissions. It states that by 2050, 80% of the world’s energy needs could be met through the renewable energy sector- a shocking figure and welcome good news.
RE can help accelerate access to energy, particularly for the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity and the additional 1.3 billion using traditional biomass.
Further, and of specialized interest to me personally, the report discusses renewable energy’s availability to small countries. In the picture below, taken on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia, the islanders of Tacquille received this solar panel as a gift from the government. My knowledge here is limited to what island residents shared with me as we walked around the terraced potato and bean crops one sunny afternoon, so I have to go on trust with the details. Tacquille island’s infant mortality rate is apparently quite high for geographical and weather-related reasons. (Apparently and tragically, the tiny, steeply sloped island receives frequent massive and chaotic storm events, making it tough for child rearing.) In sympathetic recognition of a particularly fatal year, the government provided this and other solar panels to the islanders. I think the gift is a beautiful reminder of our fragility in the midst of a strong, demanding, and increasingly traumatic world, but also of the planet’s constant donation of usable and easily harness-able resources, even in locations as remote as the middle of Lake Titicaca.
IPCC’s Renewable Energy Report Summary for Policy Makers (only a summary of the length report: http://www.ipcc.ch/meetings/session33/doc20_p33_SPM_SRREN.pdf