What does it feel like to lose your home, your community, and your entire nation?
This is a cross-post from The Climate Reality Project.
What does it feel like when you realize the place you call home may disappear forever? The people of the Central Pacific island nation of Kiribati can answer that question. They are grappling firsthand with the climate crisis we’ve inflicted on our planet, and now face the prospect of their country ceasing to exist because of rising sea levels.
Even as we speak, the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, is in talks with the government of Fiji to buy land to relocate his entire nation. If the deal is finalized, a segment of its population of over 113,000 people will resettle on less than eight square miles of land in Fiji.
President Tong revealed this latest development on Fijian TV and said: “This is the last resort. There is no way out of this one. Our people have to move as the tides have already reached our homes and villages.” In a desperate search for solutions, Kiribati has even considered constructing manmade platforms like oil rigs for its citizens to live on once the country is underwater. Kiribati hopes it will be also be able to purchase land in nearby Australia and New Zealand to relocate more of its citizens.
When I read this latest news I realized I should take the opportunity today to acquaint myself with this beautiful part of the world . After all, I may not have a chance to get to know these islands in the future. I listened to the voices of Kiribati’s men, women and children in this video from UNDP (watch it below), where they describe their years of struggle against the rising ocean.
The latest science indicates that average global sea level rise is happening at a faster rate than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected in 2007 and could possibly be as high as 2 meters by the end of the century. None of Kiribati’s atolls rise more than a few meters above sea level. Two islands have already disappeared under the ocean. By one estimate, 25-54% of southern Kiribati and 55-80% northern Kiribati (PDF) could be permanently inundated by the middle of the century. Even areas that stay above sea level will become more vulnerable to extreme weather and dangerous king tides.
All of this adds up to one thing: that residents of Kiribati are losing their homes, livelihoods, history, traditions and their identity because the rest of the world failed to act in time. Most of us reading this post are far removed from Kiribati, both in geography and in our lifestyles. But no matter where we may be, we do understand the idea of belonging. We know what home means. What if this happened to your home or country? I think we’d all agree with the somber sentiment of President Tong: “It is not nice to be planning the demise of your country. Nobody wants to do that. Who wants to lose his national identity? Nobody wants to do that. But can you give me any other option, given the rising tide? No, you cannot.”
Or can we? What do you think? Write in and let us know.