For the rest of the world, the Pacific island microstates are to global climate change what the canary was to coal mines. The Republic of the Marshall Islands is the new sentinel – warning the world of a global calamity that has arrived.
Sentinel species are animals that provide humans advance warning of environmental dangers. These animals are more susceptible or have greater exposure to a particular hazard than humans in the same environment. The Pacific, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, in particular, are the world’s latest “sentinel species,” like Pacific canaries, more sensitive to adverse climate change, and dying before our eyes, even if we don’t care to look.
Coal mining workers used to carry down into their mine tunnels caged canaries. If dangerous gases such as methane or carbon monoxide leaked into the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.
Climate change is being felt across the Pacific, in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in particular, making the region a useful early indicator of shifting global weather patterns that warn of coming greater disaster, eventually impacting us all.
Republic of Marshall Island’s equivalent to a vice president, Tony de Brum has emerged onto the world stage as a significant voice of alarm to the nations about the impending perils of global warming.
Despite the Philippines disaster fresh on every one’s mind, a little more than than two weeks ago the UN climate change talks ended with inconclusive results and inaction. Again. The gathering was absent any sense of urgency and lacked any bold action…unless you consider the softshoe shuffle by wealthy industrialized nations to avoid blame for the climate crisis to be ‘action.’
Pacific nation delegations with considerably more to lose - like their entire country, for example - found progress at this year’s conference bogged down by the larger nations responsible for creating the crisis with recurring disputes over who needs to do what, when and how, in order to slow the effects of climate change.
The microstates of the Pacific have been experiencing for years, increasing intensity of droughts, flooding, massive typhoons and cyclone systems and rising sea levels that are destroying homes and forcing whole communities to relocate to lands other than that which their ancestors knew.
- “Mine is a country where the ocean is rising faster than anywhere else in the world, where the coral beneath our feet is being eaten away, and where the window of opportunity to secure our long-term survival feels like it is closing before our eyes,” RMI vice president Tony de Brum told global leaders at the 19th UN climate change conference recently ended in Warsaw, Poland. His statements were widely covered throughout Europe and Asia, but you would never know that from local media sources.
In 1992, after scientists began warning that humans were warming the planet primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, the UN launched the climate talks.Yet, world leaders and citizens in nations far from the increasing disaster zone are reluctant to do anything about climate change; despite two decades of ominous warnings and clear signs of danger.
Normally, the international climate talks take on the tone of a war crimes tribunal, with the US the culprit in chief of among industrialized nations. This time, however, US special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern was given a reprieve this go-round as the US pushed for a climate deal that urged each country propose emissions targets for discussion by March 2015.
China sabotaged that effort to create loopholes that it could use to circumvent meaningful change. India, Australia and Japan were also culprits in continuing climate crime, with Japan being accused of using the recent Fukushima disaster following a tsunami in 2011 to avoid emission reductions.
- For the tens of thousands of Marshallese, a series of storms this year brought yet another reminder that the impacts of climate change aren’t something that awaits in a far-off, distant future. The impact of climate change has left its capital with about two hours’ worth of fresh water every other day, and many of its outer islands with no fresh water at all.
The Marshall Islands is comprised of more than a thousand islands scattered over a million square miles of ocean. Located about four hours flight time south-west of Hawaii, the islands lie an average of just two meters (6 feet) above sea level. It is one of only four coral atoll countries in the entire world.
Two climate disasters in two months. When a US emergency response team arrived to assist the government of the Marshall islands following an unprecedented and prolonged drought across the northern atolls that left thousands without enough food or water and a king tide six weeks later that flooded the RMI capital to the south, including the president’s home and the airport, Tony de Brum greeted the delegation by saying, “Welcome to climate change!”
Locally, what happens in the Marshall islands should be of concern to Guam residents for a couple of critical reasons: immigration and economics.
The topic of Federated States of Micronesia citizens in our community has become a hot button issue this year on Guam. Global warming will only increase migration levels to Guam in the future.
"There’s no question that the overflow is going to happen…” de Brum has said. He expects environmental refugees will increasingly take advantage of the Compact of Free Association as land disappears, and food and water grow increasingly scarcer across Micronesia.
While Marshallese can be expected to immigrate first to Hawai’i and the mainland, FSM residents can be expected to head our way and make Guam their first choice as their islands begin to feel the impacts that are squeezing Marshall island residents now.
- “We are now at a tipping point that threatens to flip the world into a full blown climate emergency. As the poorest and most vulnerable people of the world endure the increasingly damaging impacts of a warming world, tired excuses and calls to delay action are no longer acceptable. Economics aside, this is a moral and ethical challenge of the highest order.” ~ Tony de Brum, Minister in Assistance to the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the mastermind behind the recent Majuro Declaration on Climate Leadership, in an editorial that appeared in the prestigious UK publication The Guardian.
Rising temperatures might sound like a good thing when planning a beach vacation, but, while a recent Guam Visitor Bureau exit survey indicates visitors from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Russia come to Guam more for our beaches than anything else, Pacific Island destinations like Guam, are economically vulnerable to global warming.
For instance, Manila-based lender Asia Development Bank reported earlier this year that sun-baked tropical nations that rely on tourism income could become less attractive destinations with global temperatures increases posing a serious threat to their ability to capture tourist dollars.
Rapid erosion of sandy beaches and more frequent weather events like tropical storms, coupled with damage to coral reefs prized by divers and snorkelers, could shave one-third off tourism revenue in the Pacific region by the end of the century, according to the Asian Development Bank.
Add to that the aforementioned expected increase in FSM immigrations, and the potential concomitant spike in crime, and the lack of local leadership on this crucial regional issue portends a bleak future for our tourism industry.
As Pacific islands begin to slip beneath the azure waters of the rising Pacific, succumbing to food and water shortages, lost identities and culture, increased exodus will freight social strains onto places like Guam and Hawai’i - which, unlike Guam has already started discussions on the impending crisis.
Meanwhile, as local island leaders whistle in the wind on Guam, bookended by climate disaster evidence in the RMI to the east and the Philippines to the west, a steady and firm voice for Micronesia rises. But he’s no canary singing a sweet tune from the tropics.
De Brum’s sentinel cry is an alarm to the world, to our region to alert them to the disaster on our doorstep. Following his resolute cry before the world at the UN climate conference last month, ears perked up in Europe, Australia, Latin America and Asia. Sadly, here on Guam, our own elected officials and island media remain conveniently deaf to his warnings.
What the world needs now, what our island and region demands, is real leadership. Real teamwork to get in front of the rising seas and avoid being swamped by the social devastation that will follow. In the Marshall islands, de Brum is a champion and voice of leadership everyone should take note of.
He has put the world on notice about the impending doom and is bringing critical attention to our part of the world regarding the alarming climate trends.
Too bad - for us - that Guam media or elected officials haven’t noticed the leadership in our own backyard. They could otherwise take a valuable cue from de Brum and begin the real work of planning for a disaster that is already here.
Holy Cow! The large amounts of methane produced by cows are now a cause of concern and the subject of much scientific research. The world’s 1.5 billion cows and billions of other grazing animals emit dozens of polluting gases, including lots of methane. Two-thirds of all ammonia comes from cows. Cows emit a massive amount of methane through belching, with a lesser amount through flatulence. In 2003, the government of New Zealand proposed a flatulence tax on cows; but this was not adopted because of public protest.