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Pacific Island States To Sue Western Countries Over Rising Sea Levels

March 29, 2002 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Pacific Island States To Sue Western Countries Over Rising Sea Levels
    At the meeting of Pacific Conference of Leaders' Standing Committee at the East West Center in Honolulu, members discussed the use of lawsuits to draw attention to the risks which climate change pose their countries, and to pressure the US and Australia to sign Kyoto. (1)
    The conference nearly coincided with a report by the AU National Tidal facility which reported sinking sea levels in Tuvalu. (1, 2, 3) This story is particularly interesting (1) on human impact on Tuvalu.
    Heading into another major El Nino year, there is no doubt that Pacific states are vulnerable, but how should they argue for recognition of climatic inequalities?
posted by rschram (9 comments total)

Rschram, we went over this just last week.
posted by aaron at 5:15 PM on March 29, 2002

"It could be something as simple as chopping down coconut trees. It could affect the hydrology of the atoll," he said. The population density, and its associated pollution, might be destroying the atoll. Mitchell points to Funafuti’s infamous "borrow pits," large holes filled with trash. (*)

But have we really discussed it? I think the above quotation adds a whole new dimension—especially since the borrow pits are compost; its the only way to accumulate enough fertile soil for planting gardens.
posted by rschram at 5:21 PM on March 29, 2002

I'm usually siding with the US on world affairs, mainly because we police the world and deserve some perks. In this case, however, the US needs to back off and sign Kyoto.

From what I remember, one of the main reasons the US never signed was because countries like India, whose pollution is extraordinary, will not be held accountable to Kyoto standards, given its developing nation status.

The US really needs to lead by example here. If companies like BP can evolve and still turn a profit, so can US companies.
posted by BlueTrain at 5:33 PM on March 29, 2002

Fair enough. I gotta go read some of that stuff if I'm gonna comment more, though.
posted by aaron at 5:51 PM on March 29, 2002

Why don't they just pack up their straw mats and move to higher ground?
posted by mikegre at 6:31 AM on March 30, 2002

Even if that's a joke, mikegre, it's not very funny.

BlueTrain: I was about to jump in there and say the only reason we didn't sign Kyoto was that Bush, not Gore, was in office at the time. But I did a little research and found out I was dead wrong... we were probably never going to sign it.

Although India's pollution problem isn't quite as bad as you think: they produce one ton of C02 per person per year. China produces 3 tons, the US about 5, and Australia scores a startling 16. (The US figure I got by dividing this by this.) (And no, I don't understand why Australia's per capita figure is so high.)

Maybe a better treaty would apply to everyone equally: it'd still hit the developed world hardest, without allowing the in-between countries to sneak through a loophole.

Do I sound like a Republican? Would that cripple the economy of the teensy-tiny countries?
posted by ook at 8:22 AM on March 30, 2002

ook, here's an interesting world map of CO2 emissions, which shows the USA and Aus as roughly equivalent, over 15 tonnes/person. It rather straightforwardly discusses some of the reasons for differences, such as industrialization, choices of fuel, as well as climate extremes requiring heating and cooling.

And kudos for bringing up the Senate vote -- after all, the President may sign a treaty, but it does not become law until ratified by the upper house. That 95-0 ratio wasn't going to change dramatically any time soon unless the treaty changed dramatically. I actually suspect Gore would have wanted to sign it (whether he could pull it off politically is another question entirely), but even so it would have been merely symbolic.

The thing about India and China is both that they have low per-capita rates but enormous populations -- and the grim expectation that if they continue to industrialize with current levels of regulation, they'll soon far outstrip the US. And as the Natural Science article suggested, it might simply mean forcing a migration of dirty industries to places with even worse regulations -- and as city-to-city competition in the US should show, there are few polities with the cojones to turn down business.

Returning to the FPP question: let's assume, for a moment, a world government situation, with full constitutional protections as in the US for all world citizens. The purpose of the government is to produce the outcome of the greatest good for the greatest number. I hate to say it; I think rising sea levels ought to be a serious concern (though not yet a grave one) and the question of anthropogenic climate change is not settled; and I have sympathy for the sea islanders. But their situation here might be little different from the towns determined to be in the valley to be flooded by a dam. As pointed out by ook, the industrialized nations are not going to destroy their economies based on guesswork, but even if they weren't dealing from a position of sovereignty, in my ideal-world thought-bubble, should the preservation of low-lying areas that are difficult to get to and impossible to industrialize really be a priority of a coordinated world society? It's hard to argue yes. Not only are you suggesting that the economic engines of the world should be slowed, you're arguing for welfare for people living in places that those engines can barely get to, and simultaneously destroying the means to create the wealth that would allow the larger world society to carry the islanders on welfare.

When push comes to shove, that's the choice.
posted by dhartung at 10:18 AM on March 30, 2002

But their situation here might be little different from the towns determined to be in the valley to be flooded by a dam.

I don't buy this analogy. If it were accurate, then you might have a point. The reality is that human impact on climate, as well as other environmental degredations, already has many effects on many people's lives. The prospect of a whole (admittedly tiny) country sinking beneath the waves seems to have legs in the industralized world; it confirms what we already were told would happen. Meanwhile there are people who deal with record floods, droughts, storms. On what grounds can they argue that they are being impacted by Western nations' pollution. This isn't one limited destructive instance, it's just caught the attention of people in a way that makes climate change seem like a dam is being built.

In point of fact, there is now much evidence of no current trend of rising sea level around Tuvalu. There is a difference between merely extrapolating from past data and making predictions based on a model that takes in to account the whole world. It could still be flooded if things elsewhere change.

I don't think that environmental policy should be based on pity, although that's the risk in promoting the TV case. Reality is that we already have slight drags on the world economy due to environmental waste and degredation; this can only increase.

So the question still remains as to what good can come in terms of making people more aware of the need to rein in the economy to account for the need for future growth. (And TV is not the only evidence for this "guesswork," its the cause celebre of the moment.)
posted by rschram at 11:23 AM on March 30, 2002

I think this is a really important post, as was Lagado's last week.

I believe that global warming will be a huge future problem. But there's not enough real evidence on rising water levels to be able to effectively shame countries like the US and Australia to sign Kyoto. By the time there is, it may already be too late.

The trouble is that current studies (such as the Flinders University study) have been conducted over such a short time frame. The predicted out-come hasn't occurred yet. We are waiting until theory becomes reality, strongly suspecting that it will.
posted by lucien at 10:59 AM on March 31, 2002

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