Over the past century, human activities such as deforestation, the burning of fossil fuels, and rampant cultivation of land for livestock have released substantial amounts of heat-trapping, greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Although we hear about climate change on the news, reports are often saturated with debate over the prevailing causes of climate change, rather than focusing on what measures need to be taken to prevent it or slow its impact.
As we learn more about the wide sweeping impact of climate change it becomes increasingly apparent that action is needed now more than ever.
Climate Change Impact
News coverage regarding the impact of climate change has been largely relegated to animal species, but thousands of people are negatively affected by climate change, too.
Small island nations are some of the most at risk and least recognized. Since 1955 the oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the earth’s excess heat, expediting an unnatural increase in thermal expansion. As a result, polar ice caps and glaciers continue to melt, leading to a rise in the ocean levels.
Islands that sit only a meter or two above sea level are especially vulnerable. As sea levels continue to rise, more and more people become climate refuges and are forced to leave their homes and find sanctuary elsewhere.
1. Carteret Islands
The people of the Carteret Islands of Papa New Guinea were the first ever climate change refugees after they were displaced due to rising sea levels (as well as a shift in tectonic plates). The people of Carteret lived their lives mostly free of automobiles and used only minimal electricity. Their collective carbon footprint was practically nonexistent. The people of the Carteret Islands lived off of their crops, but were forced to relocate to the island of Bougainville after salt water inundated their fields and infiltrated fresh water wells.
2.Torres Strait Islands
The Torres Strait Islands are situated between Australia and Papa New Guinea. The 6,700 people inhabiting the 100+ islands are in danger of becoming the first Australian climate change refugees. Recently, the Australian Government confirmed it would invest $12 million to build a sea wall to protect six of the low-lying islands from king tides and costal erosion that have already displaced families and damaged infrastructures. Despite securing the funds for the sea wall, construction has been delayed repeatedly.
3. The Federated States of Micronesia
The Federated States of Micronesia is comprised of 607 islands scattered throughout the western Pacific Ocean. They, like many pacific islanders, have felt the devastating impact of climate change. Home to over 100,000 people, the sea level of Micronesian islands has risen 10mm every year, three times more than the global average. The rising seas have eroded away land and damaged villages. Last year the Federated States of Micronesia passed the climate change law that would require all state sectors to augment future policies by developing specific climate change action plans.
Kiribati is a small island nation south of Hawaii. Home to just over 100,000 people, the island sits just two meters above sea level. In September of this year President Anote Tong purchased land in Fiji to secure a new home that would be able to feed and house his people in the event that they are displaced due to rising sea levels. For now, the land will be used for agricultural needs and fish-farming to assure the people of Kiribati will have enough food to sustain them.
How You Can Help
Climate change is deeply personal and often felt through individual circumstances, leaving many to not think twice about how their consumption habits may contribute to global warming.
No matter where you live in the world, climate change IS happening. It is real.
As Marshall Island’s Tony deBum stated, “We are being put under the water by the pollution of large countries who don’t see it as their problem … [these nations] see only their development and economic progress as the reason for continuing their behavior that is causing the demise of these small island countries.”
Some research estimates that climate change could displace upwards of 200 million people by 2050.
(This post can be found here on One Green Planet)