Tuvalu, a climate change fairy tale

What really puzzles me is that it is so difficult to find out the reality of Tuvalu, while obviously Tuvalu very much shapes the reality of climate change discourse. Obviously, Tuvalu is an island of great complexity. Is sea level rise there a fake or a real threat? Are the migrants climate refugees or not? Is Tuvalu the center of the world, or is it a negligible entity at the end of the world? Is it the center of the climate negotiations, or is it a nuisance for the big ones? (…)

Werner Krauss (Die Klimazwiebel) raises the right questions about Tuvalu, whose Australian negotiator made emotional headlines at Copenhagen. Here is an excerpt:

(…)

Various sources from New Zealand state that the University of Hawaii measured since 1977 a negligible increase of only 0.07 mm per year over two decades, and that if fell three millimeters between 1995 and 1997. Anyway, according to one source, Greenpeace employed Dr John Hunter from the University of Tasmania ‘who obligingly ‘adjusted’ the Tuvalu readings upwards to comply with changes in ESNO and those found for the island Hawaii and, miraculously, he found a sea-level rise of ‘around’ 1.2 mm per year which, also miraculously, agrees with the IPCC global figure’.

The journalist Michael Field and other blogs agree that sea level rise is not the reason for migration from the island. Instead, the threat from the sea is according to Field the result of a severe over-population on an island that is scarce in resources and jobs, from a profound pollution (and mismanagement) and an unusual World War II legacy – on the main islet, Japan built an airport which resulted in great land loss.

Another report confirms that seismic events or hurricanes lead to severe floodings on the islands, but that this vulnerability is not due to climate change. Instead, there is not enough money to really protect the island, people take building materials from the atolls and so on. Furthermore, the migration to New Zealand is, according to these sources, due to economic reasons; the economic infrastructure of Tuvalu cannot support 12000 inhabitants. Tuvalu is a poor country. Its main source of income was selling their internet address .tv for some hundred million bucks. The president of Tuvalu carefully invests into a future based on climate change, as a journalist reports: ‘The government of Tuvalu has obliged all the journalists, dutifully telling of the need for future relocation (…) and possible lawsuits against polluting countries’.

To come back to Copenhagen and to Ian Fry, the spokesman of Tuvalu, who made such a ‘strong and impassioned plea’ in his speech. In many newspapers such as the Washington Post, Ian Fry is characterized as a person from ‘very high up in the climate change’, who does not live in Tuvalu but in Australia. Indeed, Ian Fry has a long career in international environmental and climate organizations on several continents, before he was hired by Tuvalu’s government. But, according to his Ph.D. advisor, there is nothing wrong with that. Why not work for another country?

Anyway, the world press likes Tuvalu, which is often presented as the first island threatened by the effects of anthropogenic climate change, with the first real climate refugees, and Tuvalu serves as a symbol of a future of ‘climate wars’ or mass migrations of climate refugees as imagined by Welzer and many others. Tuvalu plays this role effectively, in Copenhagen and elsewhere.

What really puzzles me is that it is so difficult to find out the reality of Tuvalu, while obviously Tuvalu very much shapes the reality of climate change discourse. Obviously, Tuvalu is an island of great complexity. Is sea level rise there a fake or a real threat? Are the migrants climate refugees or not? Is Tuvalu the center of the world, or is it a negligible entity at the end of the world? Is it the center of the climate negotiations, or is it a nuisance for the big ones?

Please continue reading…

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