Wednesday, July 06, 2005

some say the world will end in water

o discordia

Rising sea levels

Created from half of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands when the British colonial authorities handed over power in 1978, Tuvalu is disappearing. Global sea levels have risen by 10 to 20cm in the past 100 years, and on low-lying coral atolls such as Tuvalu the effects are already being felt. "Now is the time to start preparing, so that when people move they move with their traditions, customs and culture," said Toaripi Lauti, Tuvalu's first Prime Minister.

Early each year, during the "high tide" season, springs erupt in people's gardens, and torrents flow along the edges of roads and Tuvalu's airstrip. Lakes appear and people have to wade to their front doors. There's nowhere to run if the tide is combined with strong winds or a cyclone - no part of the atoll is more than a metre above sea level.

Plans for an evacuation of Tuvaluans to New Zealand have been tied up in red tape for years. A brief attempt to launch legal action against Australia and the US for not ratifying Kyoto never got off the ground. The idea of compensation has raised a host of problems. "How do you put a price on a whole nation being relocated?" asks Paani Laupepa, head of the environment ministry. "How do you value a culture that is being wiped out?"

The Mayans say that the world has endured five cleansings in which the human race was pushed to extinction by the global system until they changed their ways. Atlantis was reputably one. The original Mayan culture was another. The correlations to today? Advanced, scientific cultures which have started to become unsustainable. You can't keep putting it on your credit card forever, you know? Eventually what you take has to be paid back. Unfortunately the earth doesn't have an address database. It pushes back in other ways, and unfortunately it is those without power who suffer first. As Lauti said above, and I imagine him saying this with pain in his voice, as he looks out over the land his people have worked for generations, those are the people who have to move now, now while what they have is still intact.

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