A strong voice from Kiribati

A short item in today’s Herald reports the visit to New Zealand under Oxfam’s auspices of Pelenise Alofe Pilitati. I followed up with a call to Oxfam who provided helpful extra material about their visitor. As Chairperson of the Church Education Director’s Association in Kiribati she is acutely aware of the impact climate change is having on the future prospects and outlook of young people. “The future of Kiribati is in our hands – we work very hard each year to support and help students to be successful. We want our children to love their country and love to serve their people. But what is the future of our children when our country is being threatened by global warming?”

As Manager of the Kauaoki Foundation Enterprise, which specialises in Health Food and promoting health to the community, Pelenise does health promotion and cooking demonstrations for the public every week – in the public square, at hospitals, community maneabas and associations. She sees this as an important part of adapting to climate change as diets change because of salination of gardens.

The 3News Sunrise programme ran an interview with her a few days ago in which the vigour and clarity of her message and personality were very apparent. I offer a few rough transcript extracts here:

“Every high tide you will see water coming seeping under the house, like for my house, and collecting in my front yard.”

“My people are adjusting. Every day they know that something is not right. The water is rising. Temperatures very hot.”

“My government knows this is a bigger problem. And we say to our people this is not your problem alone. It is a global problem.”

”It’s not too late. It”s not too late. As long as people are listening to me right now and your government of New Zealand and Australia and everyone around the world who is causing the problem right now – if they act – and we’ve been asking them please cut the carbon emissions by 40 to 50%. If they do that right now then we have time to adjust.”

Prompted by a question about the difficulty for people here to take climate change seriously because it seems to be happening so slowly:

They think it’s abstract.  They do not understand that the crisis is here, at my doorstep, in my home.  They think it is just talk.

Twenty coconut trees in her yard have become only two. “The trees are being killed from the top and the bottom. It is  too hot at the top, and their roots are in salinated soil at the bottom.”

Are people listening, do you think?

“In New Zealand and Australia?  I think they’re waking up. But I think information is too slow getting to them. Everyone is comfortable here, enjoying their luxury and the pleasure of this place.”

As for Pacific Islanders living in New Zealand:

“They do not know. Maybe tomorrow they’ll wake up and their islands are gone. I am here not just to protect my land but to protect all of the whole Pacific”

Do you have a chance?

“Yes we have a chance. I’m not giving up.”

To Pacific people here in NZ:

“Get up and do something. [Tell] your Prime Minister that your home is dying and it’s disappearing. Get up and do something. It’s not too late.  We can do something.”

Pelenise Pilitati doesn’t present as a meek suppliant.  There is a tone of justifiable demand in her presentation. Nevertheless it is impossible to not feel the pathos in the human situation she is describing and even in her energetic refusal to bow to what increasingly looks like the inevitable. There is little indication that Pacific voices will play any serious part in New Zealand or anyone else’s calculations. John Key did say that the threat to those countries was why New Zealand was taking climate change seriously, but one suspects that was one of his less considered remarks since there’s little sign that we are taking it at all seriously. Oxfam NZ Director Barry Coates’ statement from the Cairns summit seems a better guide:

“The Pacific’s increasingly desperate calls for Australia and New Zealand to play their part in avoiding devastating consequences for the Pacific islands has been ignored. It is as if the lives of the Pacific’s people are expendable.

“The voices of the Pacific are being ignored. It is the voices of the heavy polluters that seem to be winning in New Zealand’s climate change policies.”

Are we starting to wake up in New Zealand and Australia as Pilitati generously surmises?  Someone was asleep when they placed near the top of the website page reporting her visit, a link to an ignorant column by Jim Hopkins in Friday’s Herald pouring smart alec scorn on Keisha Castle-Hughes and Lucy Lawless and the idea that CO2 is anything other than beneficial to the world.  At least I hope they were asleep. It would be appallingly insensitive if it were done deliberately.

41 thoughts on “A strong voice from Kiribati”

  1. thank you Brian.

    A stark contrast from the discussion here about what Key, Smith and Hide can get past their big business buddies.

    there’s a difference between survival and surviving the next election.

  2. Of course this is not real until it’s happening to western societies, then it’s just a natural event. Unstoppable global warming every 1500 years or some other rubbish.

    On the Jim Hopkins column, that really pissed me off. What a smug ignorant dork. Let’s hope Mr and Mrs Karma pay him a nice visit in the future.

    The herald is doing a piss poor job on climate change reporting.

  3. I stuck around for the satellite link at the end of the film and she was there to say a few words.
    I wonder how many of those dithering idiots [deniers] have beach-front properties or baches?

  4. I found dramatic evidence of victims of climate change. I don’t know why this isn’t getting media but a city of 271,000 people that has been in the same place for 1900 odd years is now being inundated with water! Suely they need to be some of the first recipients of the UNFCCC adaptation fund.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venice

    Also, 900 years ago in a place called Zeeland, not the new version, sea levels rose and turned what was continental Europe into islands! Zeeland was unfortunate enough to be flooded again in 1951, losing more land to the sea.

    But the worst Dutch flood of the period occurred in 1287, killing 50,000 Dutch, and the loss of vast amounts of land to the sea overnight and dramatically changing the Europa map.

    http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/historical/central_europe_1180.jpg

    In fact, Zeeland and Holland are littered with historic recordings of loss of land to rising seas;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floods_in_the_Netherlands

    I never knew climate change had been happening for so long! Well I guess if stop climate change now by reducing CO2 levels down to 350ppm maybe we can save the people of Kiribati.

  5. R2d2 confuzzled yet again?. Put it down to bad manufacture, they sure don’t make them like they used to. Perhaps rising sea levels will eventually fry whatever few functioning circuits r2 has left. Notice I didn’t mention logic circuits.

    No r2 this is not the first time that human settlements have been engulfed by the sea. Archeological evidence far predates Venice and Zeeland. It is however, the first time that humans have induced sea level rise by pumping out CO2 emissions like there’s no tomorrow.

    Seriously someone needs to program you with at least the basics in climate science, because you are an embarrassment to all fair dinkum machines. And that includes toasters, George Foreman grills, and waffle makers.

  6. R2D2 Odd that when some of us feel the pathos of a situation you feel an urge to scurry around looking for (false) evidence that nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Do you ever reflect on the sheer inhumanity that denialism seems willing to accommodate?

  7. Bryan –

    A person interested in sea level behaviour in the Pacific would probably know about the South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project. The web site at http://www.bom.gov.au/oceanography/projects/spslcmp/spslcmp.shtml has a helpful map of the Pacific Islands being monitored and describes their project thus:

    Sponsored by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). The project’s aim is to help South Pacific Forum member countries to understand the processes, scale and implications of sea level rise and extreme event variability in the region. By means of a network of instruments operating over several decades, the project accurately records variations in long-term sea level and land movement in the South Pacific. NTC provides the sea level component. The information collected supports scientific reports on sea level variations from climatic and gravitational influences, as well as geographic variations through tectonic movement and atoll decay.

    Their latest report, for May 2009, shows sea level anomalies since 1992 (see Figure 11) for the 12 tide gauges. The short-term trends are summarised on page 11. Kiribati exhibits a rising trend of 3.3 mm/yr, which ought not to alarm anybody.

    If salt water is getting into Miss Pilitati’s vegetables it’s not because the sea level is higher, or it rose earlier and has since slowed down.

    You might notice also that neither the water temperatures nor the air temperatures show much of a trend, just eyeballing the graphs in Figures 15 and 16.

    If Miss Pilitati is informed of the real reasons for the failure of the coconuts she might just derive a proper solution instead of uselessly blaming developed nations and waiting for compensation.

    And if your comments, Bryan, were based more on facts than on a sense of pathos more good sense would be common. There is plenty to be concerned about without creating false reasons for concern.

    Cheers,
    Richard Treadgold,
    Convenor,
    Climate Conversation Group.

    1. Kiribati exhibits a rising trend of 3.3 mm/yr, which ought not to alarm anybody.

      That’s still 6cm over the time that the measurements have been running (17 years). That could easily be the difference, in one person’s lifetime, between a spring tide that is safe and one that fills the lower part of the water table with salt. And that 3.3 mm/yr is the lowest in the group of measurements; the average over the 12 stations is 7.2 mm/yr or 0.72 m per century. Short-term they can imbalance but eventually they will catch up. So, factoring in this average observed rise – and considering that erosion and rising saline water tables makes the small sea level rise much more perceptible – it amounts to a significant problem. And that’s before we take into account accelerating sea level rise.

      I note that you did not suggest any other explanation. What did you have in mind? Spontaneous death from old age? Accidental use of drain-o as fertilizer?

  8. “Do you ever reflect on the sheer inhumanity that denialism seems willing to accommodate?”

    Maybe you should look at your own tent. ‘Green’ policies cause far more suffering than ‘Denialism’ ever has.

    “Food Crisis Shows How Bad Policies Can Be Deadly”
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&sid=arSRWU0yDL7M&refer=home

    “Biofuels Major Cause of Global Food Riots”
    http://www.arabnews.com/?page=6&section=0&article=108852&d=11&m=4&y=2008

    Last years food riots were only preview of what will be major suffering in the future if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Gareth and yourself have repeatedly promoted the use of forest sinks, including planting over 100,000 hectares per year of New Zealand pastoral land in forests!

    http://hot-topic.co.nz/why-did-nick-smith-hide-the-facts-on-forestry/

    Will this not lead to more starvation? Think of the consequesnces if all nations did this? How are we to feed the world?

    And what about reducing nitrous oxide emissions by reducing fertiliser use, is this not going to lead to increased starvation?

    Or reduced cattle populations to reduce enteric methane and urine nitrous emissions? Can people survive on chicken and tofu for protein sources? And then there is the methane from rice patties, what is monsoonal South Asia going to grow for food?

    Please do not tell me I am not compashionate.

    And then there is the push for renewable energy. A Spanish study found that, “Each “green” megawatt installed destroys 5.28 jobs on average elsewhere in the economy: 8.99 by photovoltaics, 4.27 by wind energy, 5.05 by mini-hydro.” In developed nations this is felt as wealth loss but in developing nations access to cheap energy may be the difference between life and death for the most vulnerable.

    http://www.juandemariana.org/pdf/090327-employment-public-aid-renewable.pdf

    So how does the ‘Green’ movement justify all the suffering that will need to happen to reduce emissions? Is the green movement inhuman? Judge yourself by the same standard you judge others please.

    1. Don’t put words in my mouth, R2. I have not now, nor have I ever advocated “planting over 100,000 hectares per year of New Zealand pastoral land in forests!” Because there’s plenty of marginal land to plant. Think eroding hillsides, etc.

      As for your other points: I’m not going to argue the toss beyond pointing out that the biofuels debacle was driven by stupid policy in the US (GWB ring any bells?).

      Climate change is a serious problem. It’s no surprise that there have been mistakes along the path to a solution. There will be many more. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act now. It just means we have to be smart. Advocating inaction is just being stupid.

  9. Richard Treadgold:
    “Kiribati exhibits a rising trend of 3.3 mm/yr, which ought not to alarm anybody.”

    Over the 17 years so far measured this adds up to 56 mm on my calculator. Enough to be significant for low-lying atolls. It also represents a rising trend in sea level rise compared with the average 20th century rise. And if the kind of scientific predictions discussed here on Real Climate are borne out that rising trend will accelerate.

    Sea level rise is dynamic in its effects. The ocean is not a mill pond. I found Pelenise Pilitati’s presentation restrained and in line with what can be expected from sea level rise already. You evidently think she is deluded or perhaps even making things up to get money from developed nations. (I notice this latter theme is sounded quite often in denialist circles.)

    It’s facts you want is it, not pathos? I’m afraid the two are inextricably entwined in the matter of climate change, and I make no apology for conjoining them in anything I write.

    R2D2
    If you follow Hot Topic as closely as you appear to you should know that anything I have written on biofuels has been related to cellulosic or algal sources and carefully distinguished from the use of food crops or land suitable for food production.

    So far as NZ dairying is concerned your comments are needlessly defensive. It seems increasingly clear that nitrous oxide emissions can be reduced by sensible farming practices. And dairying can hardly claim to be necessary in order to feed the world. There are more efficient ways of feeding people. Which is not to say we should close down the industry, just to give it a proper perspective. There are very good environmental reasons to cap our cattle population, or at least to match any further growth with research to reduce methane emission.

    So far as rice growing is concerned there is evidence that improved practice can bring reductions there too.

    Your final suggestion that green energy results in net destruction of jobs in an economy represents the same kind of knee-jerk reaction as your comments on farming. Do you really think economies have no adaptability?

  10. R2 comes from the school of economics that is firmly based on sand. So he should know what he is talking about with regards to Kiribati – Yeah Right!
    Its about time R2 actually read up on thermodynamics ethics and came to a realization that:
    a. Science has changed since the time of Adam Smith, and
    b. Ethics have changed since the time of John Locke.
    But classical economics hasn’t…

  11. Here we go again. Another ludicrously-titled Pacific “leader” ignoring the indemic superstition, tribalism, neopotism, and kleptocracy that has seen Pacific nations’ performance since independance matched only in disasterousness by sub-Saharan Africa.

    Instead, top of the priority list goes blaming Palangis for the ongoing 3mm/year sea level rise (which has happened since the last ice age). Pathetic.

  12. No, it is the lack of global observation of any sea-level rise above 3mm/year, that doesn’t allow “the message” (catastrophic metres of sea level rise THIS CENTURY!!!) to be real.

      1. Yes really. Locals are reporting noticeable changes in sea levels from 20 – 30 years ago. Where a high tide stopped when they were young doesn’t stop there anymore.
        There are two things going on there of course – that part of the country is on a plate that is subsiding. There is also the increasing rise in sea levels due to
        a. thermal expansion, and
        b. the, at present, comparatively small increased volume from melting glaciers and melting Greenland and Antartic Ice Shelves but,
        c. mitigated by increased evaporation.
        The average rate of increase in relative sea level in NZ is about 1.6 – 1.7 mm per year. http://www.pol.ac.uk/psmsl/gb/gb6/denys.html
        Note that that is a relative measurement – because many of the stations for recording sea levels are on land that are on plates that are rising. So the effect of the rising levels of the oceans is in many places mitigated.

        1. “The average rate of increase in relative sea level in NZ is about 1.6 – 1.7 mm per year.”

          How does this compare to ‘pre-industrial levels’? (10,000BC – 1850)

  13. Steve, if we’re going to wait until we observe what is being predicted we will have waited too long. It’s hard to send the extra water back to the ice from which it will have come, or to cool the oceans which will have expanded as they got warmer. The processes are hardly obscure and we would be purblind fools to insist on waiting to see before we believe. By the way it doesn’t need to be many metres to be catastrophic – one will do enormous damage. The Real Climate post I linked to in comment #14 recognises that.

    1. The first assessment report was in 1990, we’ve been waiting 20 years and what has happened? Sooner or later you have to see the emperors cloths for what they are.

      1. Sooner or later you have to see the emperors cloths for what they are

        Since you’re wearing them as a blindfold you clearly have an intimate acquaintance with his majesty’s rags.

        Out here in the real world, sea level rise is already a clear and present danger, but only one of the reasons why action is needed to reduce carbon emissions.

  14. Instead, top of the priority list goes blaming Palangis for the ongoing 3mm/year sea level rise (which has happened since the last ice age). – Steve Wrathall

    Credit where it’s due, Palangis are the main culprits here, not the island nations. Nice how you managed to slip in that mislead there about sea level huh?. Sea level rise has accelerated in the last part of the 20th century.

    http://www.cmar.csiro.au/sealevel/index.html

    Don’t tell me you’re this guy:

    http://ifs.massey.ac.nz/people/staff.php?personID=9

  15. Bryan Walker: “…if we’re going to wait until we observe what is being predicted we will have waited too long.”

    This is just Pascal’s wager in a cheap tuxedo. But it’s a nice admission that catastrophic sea-level rise ISN’T being observed. So much for the science being settled.

    Dappledwater: “…Sea level rise has accelerated in the last part of the 20th century. ”

    Correction: SLR appeared to accelerate (from ~2 to ~3 mm/year)when measurement switched from tide guages to satellites. However according to the CSIRO site you link to “…Whether or not this represent a further increase in the rate of sea level rise is not yet certain.”

    Getting from this “not yet certain” increase to the catastrophic metres of SLR is pure science fiction.

    Isn’t it time to tell our Pasifika brothers to focus on real problems?

    1. The actual rate of SLR has been misunderestimated (as GWB would say), due to not taking into account the increasing amount of freshwater that is being held back in artificial reservoirs. Each new reservoir that is built means less fresh water entering the sea. If there was no SLR being caused by warming oceans, we should have seen the sea level drop by 30mm over the last century. This just emphasises how real and significant the SLR due to warming is.

      http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1154580v1

  16. Well there was much to gain from Pascal’s wager Steve – Pragmatism, Probability Theory , and Quantum Mechanics to name but a few. So I wouldn’t right it off as an argument as you have just done.
    And the science is settled. It’s just that a few – like yourself – can’t get your blinkers off long enough to see it!

  17. Correction: SLR appeared to accelerate (from ~2 to ~3 mm/year)when measurement switched from tide guages to satellites. However according to the CSIRO site you link to “…Whether or not this represent a further increase in the rate of sea level rise is not yet certain.” – Steve Wrathall

    Are you serious?. Download the pdf. Notice the tide gauge data?. Spelled out more clearly here by Neil and John Church (CSIRO) in Geophysical Research Letters (2006) – A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise:

    “Here, we extend the reconstruction of global mean sea level back to 1870 and find a sea-level rise from January 1870 to December 2004 of 195 mm, a 20th century rate of sea-level rise of 1.7 ± 0.3 mm yr−1 and a significant acceleration of sea-level rise of 0.013 ± 0.006 mm yr−2. This acceleration is an important confirmation of climate change simulations which show an acceleration not previously observed.”

    So correction of your incorrect correction!.

    “Getting from this “not yet certain” increase to the catastrophic metres of SLR is pure science fiction.” – Steve Wrathall.

    So much for institutions of learning huh?. Several metres of sea level rise is already guaranteed due to the CO2 already emitted. The question is how soon we get there because IPCC projections do not include accurate modelling of rapid changes in ice flow, nor the contribution of methane locked up in permafrost and clathrates.

    “Isn’t it time to tell our Pasifika brothers to focus on real problems?” – Steve Wrathall.

    They are, you aren’t. Uh, oh, just watched a couple of those you tube rants – you seriously do not have a clue.

  18. “IPCC projections do not include accurate modelling of rapid changes in ice flow, nor the contribution of methane locked up in permafrost and clathrates”
    Yes, because there is no evidence for such phenomena during previous warm excursions .

    So if even the IPCC are not prepared to put such unproven speculation in their models, why should we give credence to predictions that rely on such unproven speculation? And why do we allow our relations with Pacific nations to be dominated by such fictional concerns?

    1. Yes, because there is no evidence for such phenomena during previous warm excursions .

      Actually, there’s a lot of such evidence (start here), which is why people are concerned about the prospects for sea level rise over the next century. But then I’d hardly expect you to be aware of it (or admit to knowing it), because it conflicts with your highly selective world view…

  19. “How does this compare to ‘pre-industrial levels’? (10,000BC – 1850)”
    And what’s that got to do with the price of fish? Then the world wasn’t carrying out the massive experiment of raising greenhouse gases artificially, clearing forests as if they were limitless, and breeding at such a rate that we double our population every 7 decades.
    As for the answer – well your guess is as good as mine, since tide records don’t go back before European times.
    What we do know is that the sea levels around NZ are rising at a rate consistent with the projections of the science of an increasing average ocean temperature, and consistent with observed global sea level rises.

  20. Thanks Dappledwater for that link. I don’t think that there were too many Roman fish tanks build in NZ though! 🙂
    But R2 I guess you can extrapolate, and it’s the RED line in the last graph that is the kicker – that’s the recorded rise since c1850 – when tide gauges were introduced.

  21. “Yes, because there is no evidence for such phenomena during previous warm excursions”- Steve Wrathall.

    Wrong. There is evidence, here’s just a couple:

    http://www.whoi.edu/science/GG/people/kbice/Bice_Marotzke_2002.pdf

    https://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/agubooks?book=ASSP0542960

    “So if even the IPCC are not prepared to put such unproven speculation in their models, why should we give credence to predictions that rely on such unproven speculation” – Wrathall

    Why would the IPCC projections include factors that cannot be accurately modeled?. However the fact they can’t be, doesn’t mean they won’t have profound effects. Look at glacier melt (specifically Greenland and Antarctica) for instance, it’s happening far faster than projections, precisely because modelling of them is not yet sophisticated enough.

    As for methane clathrates, despite various estimates on it’s size, even the lower end suggests enough to significantly contribute to warming if released. It’s a huge worry to the climate scientists, despite your spin on it.

    No, uncertainty doesn’t mean “no worries mate”, quite the opposite in fact!.

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