Climate Corner: Goodbye, Tuvalu; alas, I hardly knew you
FEB 11, 2023
LINDA EVE SETH
Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner
“Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted.” — Ritu Ghatourey
Anyone who has stood on a sandy beach and watched the waves pound the shore will recognize that the ocean changes the land it touches rapidly and dramatically. Simultaneously, the ocean absorbs the carbon dioxide responsible for rising temperatures, increasing acid levels in the saltwater, eroding protective reef formations, and reducing the survival of fish stocks upon which many island nations subsist. This threatens to consume the land of low-lying islands and the limited freshwater reserves.
The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), established in 1990, represents a group of 44 island nations. The small island states, scattered across the planet, are recognized as being especially vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. The extent of the concern and the potential harmful effects have resulted in the AOSIS becoming a powerful lobbying and driving force in carbon emission reductions.
AOSIS fights against the circumstances that threaten to destroy their very existence. Its members are among the nations least responsible for climate change, having contributed less than 1% to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These states advocate for international policy and mechanisms for addressing the inequity of climate impacts.
Tuvalu, is one of the first countries in the world that will need to tackle the challenge of swelling oceans. An island nation of nine atolls between Australia and Hawaii is home to 11,500 people (2021). The country averages 6.5 feet above sea level, but the rising seas are steadily reducing the distance.
Between 1992 and 2020 the global sea level rose eight inches. A panel of scientists estimates that sea levels will rise an additional 20 inches by 2100 if the world can drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions between now and then. If not, these figures could almost double.
While rising sea levels influence the entire planet, they pose the greatest threat to islands close to sea level. Here are islands, like Tuvalu, many of them small nations, under threat by climate change. There are many more.
Maldives is a picturesque chain of 1,190 islands in the Indian Ocean. 80% of Maldives sit less than 3.3 feet from the ocean’s surface, putting the nation at great risk of storm surges, tsunamis, and rising seas. Experts predict the Maldives may be underwater by 2050.
Cabo Verde, off the coast of western Africa, consists of nearly 600 miles of coastline, threatened by flash floods, tropical cyclones, and torrential rains. As a result, this nation is in danger as the planet warms and seas rise.
Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific, features 330 low lying islands whose coast lands are the most densely populated and at the greatest risk.
Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean consist of 607 islands containing both mountains and low-lying coral atolls and many are sinking. Marine species living throughout Micronesia are being negatively affected by ocean acidification and increased temperatures
Solomon Islands is a sovereign nation in the South Pacific Ocean, southeast of Papua New Guinea, comprised of a collection of 992 distinct islands and atolls. Five of those islands have already disappeared due to rising sea levels from 1947 to 2014, and more are likely to share a similar fate.
Closer to home, Tangier Island, off the coast of Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay, has lost 65% of its landmass since 1850, and some of the roughly 700 residents are already being displaced as their homes flood with seawater.
Seychelles, a biodiverse and naturally beautiful archipelago comprised of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, is an East African country. The Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean are made up of 1,225 islands spread over 29 coral atolls. If the sea levels rise just 3.3 feet more, much of both of these nations will be lost.
Meanwhile, in Tuvalu, residents continue to live under the constant threat of being washed away from their island homes as climate events become more severe. Their Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, asks an important question: “If you were faced with the threat of the disappearance of your nation, what would you do?”
Until next time; be kind to your Mother Earth.
Linda Eve Seth, SLP. M.Ed. is a mother, grandmother, concerned citizen, and member of MOVCA.