Wednesday, June 09, 2004

High Tide

Currently reading 'High Tide: News From a Warming World' by Mark Lynas, and really enjoying it - it's wonderfully clear and accessible on a subject I know very little about, and beautifully written; Lynas conjures some wonderful images.

He writes very movingly about the pacific island of Funafuti, part of Tuvula, which is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, and which, due to rising oceans, is basically disappearing underwater. At the time of his writing the island had entered into an arrangement with New Zealand to start sending 75 people a year there - not exactly an urgent evacuation, but the long term prognosis is unequivocal. Within the next ten to fifteen years they will have to move.

Lynas meets Panapese Nelisone, who is touchy on the matter. Lynas writes

"As we finished the conversation, I made the mistake of using the word 'evacuation'. He broke in sharply: 'It's not an evacuation. We have not yet reached the stage where we must evacuate people. We know there is the threat of global warming, and the government doesn't want to sit back and do nothing. So this is a migration programme, a gradual kind of thing over time, not an evacuation as such, where we have to move people".

Lynas's descriptions are wonderful, and it is awful to think that in perhaps 30 years the Island will have dissapeared.

"Once the harsh sunlight began to soften a little, I wandered outside to explore. A hundred metres on my left was the lagoon, fringed by a narrow beach, the water mottled with purples and light blues where the sea floor alternated between sand and rock. A few women stood chatting in the water, only their heads showing above the rippled surface - looking as natural as old ladies passing the time of day at a London bus stop. Every now and then someone would heave themselves out of the sea fully-clothed, and set off, dripping, back to their house. I marvelled at their almost amphibious lifestyle - being wet or dry made little difference in this equatorial heat".

Aerial view of Funafuti Island, Tuvalu, May 2002 (Photo: Bob Girdo)

'My thinking', says the former Prime Minister of Tavulu, 'is that now is the time for preparing a place so that when people move they can move with their traditions, their customs and their culture. Some people say no, no it won't happen - they don't believe in it. So I say, well, which one would you like - would you like to stay here and then every one of us will die and there will be no more Tuvaleans? Or that we prepare and move to another place where we can survive? ... But I want to stay on this Island, you know. I will go down with Tavalu. This is my thinking.'

Lynas tells a lovely story about Toaripi, met on the beach one day by some unsuspecting American squaddies who "asked him to do their laundry, without realising that they were speaking to the country's Governer-General". Of course, Lynas writes, he happily obliged.

Since Lynas's book was written the migration programme continues. Australia continues to refuse to help, or ratify the Kyoto agreement. The most recent article I found on the subject is here

There is a rather more cheerful page on the Islands here, from which the above photo was taken. Lynas's blog is at

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