The Common Good

Saving Tiny Kiribati from Devastating Climate Change

 By E.W.A. hong kong/Getty Images.
Coastline of Tarawa, Kiribati damaged by rising sea levels. By E.W.A. hong kong/Getty Images.

There may be those in the public sphere who dismiss climate change as a ‘hoax’ — doing so is good politics in some spheres — but the people of the small island nation of Kiribati do not have the luxury of debating whether climate change is real.

It is. And it's threatening the very existence of their nation.

The President of Kiribati, Anote Tong gave a stark warning last week in an interview with The Associated Press, stating that rising sea levels and other issues caused by man-made climate change were putting his country’s population at risk, so much so that they are looking to take out something of an insurance policy — by buying nearly 6000 acres (9 square miles) of land from nearby Fiji, which could possibly house Kiribati’s 103,000 inhabitants.

The Republic of Kiribati is comprised of 32 atolls (the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands) and a single island, Banaba (aka Ocean Island) in the central Pacific Ocean. Kiribati won its independence from Great Britain in 1979.

Two (thankfully uninhabited) islands that were part of the nation have already succumbed to rising sea levels, disappearing from our maps in 1999. According to other reports, climate change “would likely "seriously compromise" freshwater resources … [in] Kiribati, where less than half of the population has access to safe water.” Coupled with the knowledge that Kiribati is a poor state (its GDP per person is under $1,500 a year), these worrying facts serve to remind us that climate change is hitting the poorest in our world first, and the hardest. Slow progress at every level to tackle this issue may not seem overly problematic for us, but for the I-Kiribati and millions of other potential ‘climate refugees’ around the world, it is a matter of life-or-death. If concerted actions are not taken, Kiribati will become “uninhabitable” by 2100.

And it is not only Kiribati who should be worried by rising sea levels. As reported in The New York Times yesterday, a new report warns that almost 4 million Americans are at risk from increased coastal flooding due to rising sea levels. States across the country, from Florida to California, New York to Louisiana will have to deal with regular flooding if the pace of sea levels rises increases as much as this new foresees.

Let’s not ignore these worrying trends. And if you won’t take action for the sake of the people of I-Kiribati, then do it for the friends and family you have in coastal areas of this country, whose lives and livelihoods could be severely impacted by climate change, and our inability to take concerted action to mitigate against it.

Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackPalmer88.

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