Climate change: A matter of life and death

2011-12-01 12:51

Bangkok - When Ursula Rakova talks about her homeland, her eyes light up. "We always had a good life," she says. But those days are over.

Rakova has abandoned the Carteret Islands, which are part of Papua New Guinea, because she really had no choice.

The islands are sinking into the sea, which is rising partly as the result of increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused by man.

Rakova's island, Huene, has now become two islands after a stretch of land remained under water following a storm.

‘Islands will be gone soon’

Along the beach, palms are falling into the water, because their roots can no longer keep them standing upright while the soil under them is washed away.

"It's hardly worth looking them up in an Atlas. They'll soon be gone," Rakova says.

The perils of ice melt and rising sea levels from global warming are a key focus of UN climate talks going on in Durban, where negotiators are seeking the way forward after the Kyoto Protocol expires in December 2012.

The activist Rakova shows its effect on her part of the world in videos placed on YouTube, in the hope of shaking the world into action - in particular, negotiators on climate change.

"We slake our thirst only with coconut milk. All the freshwater sources are contaminated with seawater," Rakova told a climate conference in Bali in 2007. "At high tide, our gardens are under water, and the salt destroys everything."

The islanders planted mangroves for years to buttress the coastline and made breakwaters using mussel shells, but they lost the battle against the sea.

"People now live almost exclusively off fish and coconuts," says Paul Tobasi, another former resident.

"Before that, we grew sweet potatoes and other things. All of that is gone, because the soil is saline."

Population plunged

The sweet potato fields are now home to stingrays and sharks.

Several months ago, another seven families gave up the unequal battle to move to Bougainville Island. Huene's former population of 2 500 has declined sharply.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is anticipating a rise in sea level of up to 59cm by the end of the century. A rise of this order would spell the end of many low-lying island nations.

But even on higher-lying islands like Fiji and the Solomon Islands, much of the islands' life is played out along the coastline, as has been written by Patrick Nunn, professor of Oceanic Geoscience at the University of South Pacific on Fiji.

These islands have also been hit hard by climate change. Right across the 22 Pacific Island nations that are home to 7 million people, the changes are clearly visible.

The Australian government's Pacific Climate Change Science Programme has provided evidence of this in a recent study.

"Already, people in Pacific Islands and East Timor are experiencing changes in their climate such as higher temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns, changing frequencies of extreme events and rising sea levels," it says.

"These changes are affecting people's lives and livelihoods, as well as important industries such as agriculture and tourism."

Frightening outlook

Concrete examples provide a more dramatic picture: in Samoa, with 180 000 inhabitants, the sea level has risen by 4 millimetres a year since 1993. In Tuvalu, with a population of 10 500, it has gone up by 5mm annually and in Tonga, with 105 000, by 6mm.

Kiribati, the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands have been similarly affected. Some are experiencing higher rainfall and flooding, others less rain and resulting drought periods.

The outlook is frightening for all. The Australian study notes that sea levels will continue to rise, ocean acidification continues, and there will be more hot days, more extreme rainfall and less frequent but more intense cyclones.

Winds are up to 11% stronger, and there is 20% more rain across a swath of 100km from the eye of the storm. Sea levels could rise up to 15cm by 2030.

These effects are being felt in other regions. India and Bangladesh were still arguing over ownership of the uninhabited New Moore or South Talpatti Island, when it sank beneath the waves.

In a couple of decades, the Maldives could also disappear. President Mohammed Nasheed summoned his entire cabinet to an underwater session two years ago to draw attention to the problem in a successful media exercise.

Ursula Rakova urges climate negotiators to limit the emission of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. "For us it's a question of life and death. Carrying on as before will break our hearts," she says.

  • Koos - 2011-12-01 13:24

    What's the alternative - Taxing us to death ? I'll take my chances on the first option thank you. Why should I suffer because the baby boomers f^&&k up ? I not carrying the cost for all the mistakes of the past - finish and klaar.

      Hugh - 2011-12-01 17:57

      The question is do I keep my cheap Bluff facing House in Durban in the hopes that it will become a much wanted seaside palace. When asked no one can tell me or put that in writing. Suddenly the tune changes the definate become a remote possibility. By the way those island have had this problem for 50 years or more. Some are less than 1m above sea level.The houses were traditionally build on stilts and they are of coral.

  • vivienne.midlane - 2011-12-01 13:32

    The complete NON understanding and misrepresentation of how islands work is astonishing! and you call these people "scientists"? Please show me EVIDENCE, and i don't mean press photographs of idiots underwater.

      Nigel - 2011-12-01 14:03

      There is a really good article by Nils_Axel Morner in the latest "Spectator" questioning the science behind "rising seal levels". Morner points out that while the President of the Maldives has his underwater meetings, he has also authorized the development of new airports and hotel developments at the water's edge using money from the "Copenhagen Fund". Morner refutes much of the IPCC data with his own observations. It's an interesting read.

      ludlowdj - 2011-12-01 15:18

      All sea's in the planet are joined, this means any increase in sea level will be universal and not isolated to specific areas as stated by government. Look to Indonesian which has been under water and suffering from so called "sea water erosion" for the last year. With 1.3 million hectares of crop land under saline (salt) water in Thailand alone, it doesn't take much to figure out that their 1 metre rise in sea levels could only be isolated to the area by a drop in the level of the land, not a rise in water as claimed.

  • jurgen.eksteen - 2011-12-01 13:32

    Well if you peal all the crap away from this issue, it all boils down to this ... If nations responsible for climate change simply ignore the nations that are at peril due to their activities, in my opinion it constitutes to an act of war. Imagine any country in the world doing something that is detrimental to the US. We will have a war in 2 weeks time.

      robbie.crouch - 2011-12-01 13:58

      Do some research and you too will be amazed at the con being perpetrated by the COP organizers...

      tristan.kilian - 2011-12-01 14:38

      what con is that robbie?

      ludlowdj - 2011-12-01 15:20

      Unfortunately even if all pollution activity in the world were to stop right now it would not reverse the climate change timetable or even slow it down. Anyone who tells you different will lie to you about other things as well.

      Ernst - 2011-12-01 16:29

      @robbie.crouch: Go and read the bible.

  • rod.vandeventer - 2011-12-01 13:47

    What a bunch of Crap. Global warming has happened many times before in our history. It's not caused by humans. It's caused by the sun. COP 17 is just a big money maker and a farce. Go and see "The great warming swindle" to see the truth about this BS.

      ludlowdj - 2011-12-01 15:25

      Rod although you are spot on about the climate change being a cycle you are off on the sun aspect, this is simply another convenient excuse used by the powers that be. Our so called heightened sun activity has in fact been lower than the period we consider normal. Do some research on pole shifts to see the real reasons for what is happening. Also start checking the Moons position during the night, you will see the fluctuations in position for yourself. The earth itself has developed a wobble in a slow figure 8 pattern, which can be confirmed by anyone simply by checking the moons position and movement through the night sky.

      rod.vandeventer - 2011-12-01 16:45

      Watch the movie. This is why most euro and American nations cant pay their bills anymore. They have too many people draining our tax system. Democracy is failing because its costing more than a dictatorship. I am not saying that I prefer dictatorships. I'm am just saying that we are spending money on crap like global warming. What a joke. Co2 only makes up 2% of our atmostphere. 2% cannot affect the world that much. Please watch the movie" THE GREAT WARMING SWINDLE". Its all there

  • robbie.crouch - 2011-12-01 13:56

    Their island is sinking... not the ocean rising! That is what most volcanic islands do after forming... basic geology 101 folks!

      JMan - 2011-12-01 14:08

      Shistirrer - 2011-12-01 14:08

      My thoughts exactly!!! This is sensationalist BS spread by global warming alarmists in a pathetic effort to support their theories. I mean, how on earth is it possible for ONE island to be covered by seawater after ONE storm? And the sea had "risen" so much that their sweet potato fields are now inundated? I also live next to the ocean, and I have not noticed any rise in the ocean level. Or is the Pacific not connected to Atalantic and Indian oceans, or is it some miracle of nature that the sea level is higher around those islands than anywhere else? I smell a rat...

      ludlowdj - 2011-12-01 15:33

      Although some "settling is normal in newly formed volcanic areas, they do not per say sink unless the are on an actively moving Teutonic plate such as found to be the case at the Yellowstone national park. However if you check the position of these islands on their respective Teutonic plates and them cross reference these accordingly you will find proof that all reports of sinking are along the same side of the plates in question. This would then suggest that the plates themselves are in fact starting to move and buckle under each other causing certain areas to sink and others to gain altitude.This is given more credence by simply checking seismological information and buoy readings which are available to the public on the internet. we have and are experiencing a massive increase in volcanic, and earthquake activity as well as a 12 hour "slosh" in sea levels.

  • - 2011-12-01 13:58

    Has anyone cosidered that just maybe the islands are SINKING rather than sea level rising??

  • Soetdoring - 2011-12-01 13:58

    I am sorry, but I have different information and that is that the UN in 2000 placed GPS equipment on the shores of 12 low lying Picific Islands and in 2010 the sea level showed no statistical significant rise. For more detail plus other global warming issues raised in Durban, see

  • opinionater - 2011-12-01 14:20

    like the corporations care?

  • Ian - 2011-12-01 14:22

    It amazes me that these ppl who say that the cause of the increase in global warming and climate change is not man induced/related are all of a sudden environmental scientist when the ACTUAL scientists are telling them it is....WAKEY WAKEY YOU F00LS it is because of ppl like you that nothing will come out of COP 17 and Kyoto will disappear

      Ian - 2011-12-01 14:27

      and im willing to put money on it that these ppl who say GW and CC are all a load of nonsense (including those at COP 17)....are sitting nicely in their safe secure houses where the effects of GW and CC will take another 50-100years to impact on their ppl are hypocrites the lot of you.....

      Soetdoring - 2011-12-01 14:30

      No Ian, the alarmists make their claim from 360 models, while the critics use real measurements and real science.

      Ian - 2011-12-01 15:21

      HUH?? are you joking?? The scientists (not alarmist not critics not a$$holes)base their findings on fact!!!!!! Don't no me when you have no idea what you talking about!!!!!!

      Ian - 2011-12-01 15:24 for one instance where a scientist is commenting of GW and CC!!!!!!!! the writing is on the wall and if you still havent read and understood it you better WAKE THE F**K UP!!!!

      ludlowdj - 2011-12-01 15:38

      No Ian its time for you to "wakey, wakey" these so called scientific bodies of yours are the same one who burn't people at the stake for even suggesting that the earth wasn't flat and that the earth was not the centre of the universe, The simple truth is far easier to understand, and that is that climate change is a naturally occuring event which would happen even if man did not exist on this planet, YES man is contributing to the speed in which it happens, but even if we stopped all pollution and other contributing factors the climate change would not slow down or be avoided. "The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State." (Dr. Joseph M. Goebbels)

      Ian - 2011-12-01 15:56

      NO Ludlowdj...... im afraid you are wrong!!! you just said that "these so called scientific bodies of yours are the same one who burn't people at the stake for even suggesting that the earth wasn't flat and that the earth was not the centre of the universe" please show me one scientific body who burnt ppl at the stake??? i think its vise versa those who stood up and said no the world is not flat were burnt by these bodies, which were your religious and state bodies.... Granted GW and CC are naturally occurring events (well documented by scientists) and we agree that the speed at which humans are accelerating the process is alarming, and yes even if we stop all emission into the air, stop all pollution and plant a million trees per day we wont and cant stop it. The fall out from our actions (the increasing of the process) will devastate this planet and that my friend is the core of my argument and of every other environmentalist trying to save the planet!! Think of Climate Change as the planets reset button

      Ian - 2011-12-01 16:04

      "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" Burke, Edmund

  • tristan.kilian - 2011-12-01 14:37

    Reading all the comments here it seems like we are on the Titanic and it's sinking but the people go on partying in the dining hall. And the attitude is we will never sink. Climate change is a reality, and so is global warming. Let's stop arguing about it and blaming our parents - let's rather do something.

      Soetdoring - 2011-12-01 14:46

      Why must we do something if we are not resposible for it in the first place? Why did the average global temperature dropped for 30 years (1945-1975) while the CO2 levels kept on rising? Also, why was their a slight drop in temperature from 2000 to 2010 while CO2 kept on going up? No, your comparison with the Titanic is not accurate.

  • janine.cronje - 2011-12-01 14:46

    This is such a lot of rubbish. What a waste of money and time. Times are a'changing, the Bible tells me so.

  • GoldenTeacher - 2011-12-01 14:52

    Whether or not 'climate change' and 'global warming' are proved by science is not the point. The point is that over the past few decades man's technological capacities have grown to such a level that some people consider us to have entered a new geological age (Anthropocene) where mankind is considered a significant geological force. As such what matters is that we change our moral disposition towards our planet and our home. Neither greed nor despair change the issue. Our consciousness has to shift to one which is more responsible. And our actions, whether they are scientific, technological, productive or consumptive, should align themselves with this responsibility - we should care for our environment, cultivate it, rather than exploit it for instrumental purposes. Both the fear of the apocalypse and the stubborn disavowal of mankind's geological power deflect us from real action. Bickering will not ensure a future for our children. We must in principle be responsible - whether our fears or denial is legitimate or not. "We do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children"

      Soetdoring - 2011-12-01 15:12

      Mark, nice post and I agree. Yes we should be responsible and understand what we are doing. We inherit an earth with a highly diverse history. Periods with very, very high CO2 levels and others where the ambient temperature was much higher or lower than what it is now. Point is, there never was a correlation between CO2 and temperature, i.e. CO2 never was a climate driver. Yes, I agree it is criminal to dump all sorts of toxic chemicals into the environment - mine chemicals come to mind and in particular metals.

      GoldenTeacher - 2011-12-01 16:56

      I'm afraid that there is more than a correlation between CO2 and temperature. I'm no climatologist, but as far as I understand things the reason that Venus has incredibly high temperatures is due to the greenhouse effect caused by the CO2 in its atmosphere. Moreover, what has happened in past ages on this planet are not relevant for the here and now. What you say about the planet's history is true - nature is catastrophic and violent - it's not this idealised picture that is painted so that we become motivated to save it. But cutting CO2 emissions can only be a good thing. I sense that many of the comments in this peanut gallery are disconcerted about the prospect of taxes. Tax is inevitable - get over it. But I agree that taxing CO2 emissions will do little to curb the situation, nor will selling 'clean air credits.' The task does not belong to the government. Government is incompetent. But governmental incompetence is no excuse for civil apathy and inaction. Economics and ecology share the root word 'eco' which means 'home.' When your home is dirty, you get it cleaned. You don't throw money at the dirt - you'll only dirty your money. You might pay someone to clean it because you are lazy, but if you are really savvy you'll clean it yourself. Our home is planet Earth. And it is the condition for our existence, and the existence of our economic systems. It's time to clean it up, and make it more livable for us, and for those yet to come.

      Ernst - 2011-12-02 12:01

      Mark, excellent! Well said.

  • Bobo - 2011-12-01 15:06

    Watched a programme the other night , where it was said that by end of 2012, all planets in our system will be in alighnment with the earth including the moon for a 12 - 72 hr period. They recon it will cause major havoc at coastal areas, and possible tshunamis could follow if the earth plates should shift because of the magnetic pull of those planets. If all this is true I think we could see major changes in climate at lot sooner before the initial alighnment. My point is I think there is a lot of other factors that influence our weather patterns , but to tax us to death is not going to solve the problem.

  • ludlowdj - 2011-12-01 15:14

    World governments still promoting the lie I see, The truth is 12 months maximum before the sea levels rise about 100 feet, then an increase of 675 feet over the following 2 years. Land that is sinking is doing exactly that sinking, there is no rise in water levels in Indonesian. The government and media are simply trying to minimize hysteria and a mass exodus of people who they would not be able to feed anyway, from coastal to inland areas. Every country in the world has had local media reports of "warehouse" and "bunker building" open your eyes and see instead of just looking.

      Ernst - 2011-12-01 16:20

      Yeah easy for you to say, it's not your house under the water.

  • horan.mark - 2011-12-02 12:57

    Why is there no other evidence of sea level rise. There are numerous coastlines worldwide, which have very slight gradients, small rises in sea level would thus be significant horizontally. I can't believe that the small sea level increases of 5mm of affecting entire islands. Before we open our wallets we some how scientifically and auditable data to verify that this is not propaganda and politicking.

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