Who will rule the waves?

Cleo Paskal, whose book Global Warring was reviewed recently on Hot Topic, has been speaking in New Zealand and left her card by way of an article in the Herald.  In it she focuses on one matter raised in her book – the fate of island nations whose land becomes uninhabitable because of rising seas.  Two small islands have disappeared recently. When Bermeja, in the Gulf of Mexico, disappeared so did the large claim Mexico was making in the hydro-carbon rich waters of the Gulf. No island, no claim, says the US. (Did the CIA blow the island up?) When New Moore Island at the mouth of the boundary river between India and Bangladesh disappeared, so did the competing claims of the two countries for control.

Paskal points out that the problem of land loss potentially leading to maritime zone loss is going to come up more often in the future, especially in the Pacific, and that it is a matter of considerable importance for the inhabitants. Tuvalu is an example of particular relevance to New Zealand.

“If Tuvalu is no longer above sea level, and ‘no island, no claim’ is invoked, Tuvalu could face not only losing its fishing grounds, but cease to exist as a state, thus losing its seat in the United Nations and having its citizens become, literally, stateless.”

Planning needs to begin now to cover such an eventuality.  The place to start, she suggests, is the main law governing the seas, the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. The Convention didn’t take environmental change into consideration when it was drafted and operates from the assumption that there will be no major changes to coastlines and islands.

One of the models which might be considered is enabling the evacuees to take to their country of settlement the assets of the exclusive economic zone they now occupy.

“If as the scientists tell us, Tuvalu will eventually need to be evacuated, and New Zealand takes in the bulk of the refugees, that patch of ocean could be administered from New Zealand by and for the benefit of the immigrants, affording resettlement money and economic prospects associated with their old homeland for those who want it.

“The administration could be done through a sort of combination government-in-exile and trust.”

I can hear the protests already at the prospect of our hosting a community of 12,000 from a vanishing island nation.  Perhaps Paskal’s further exploration of the idea might make the kneejerk protestors think again:

“It is worth noting that the host country need not be New Zealand or Australia. Given the geostrategic importance of the region, a “bidding war” for the immigrants might ensue with countries such as China and Taiwan looking to take in the immigrants in exchange for increased access to the region.”

It will be much preferable to have worked out something viable in advance:

“While this might seem far-fetched, what are the alternatives? Accepting the reality that some countries might need to be completely evacuated, a way forward of some sort will need to be found if a free-for-all is to be avoided.”

Otherwise we could end up with potentially undesirable forms of sovereignty:

“For example, while the rest of Tuvalu is evacuated, one of the islands could be built up. That would probably qualify it as an “artificial island”, affording it only a 500m safety zone, not the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, but it would be enough to ensure statehood. That statehood could then be sold off to corporations who could then literally become sovereign, writing laws under which they flag ships, bank, run telecoms, sell arms, etc, with the impunity and immunity of statehood. This could have far-reaching security implications.”

Somehow Koch Industries came to mind when I read that and I warmed to her plea for “a little foresight”. There are potentially far-reaching consequences from environmental change for our physical infrastructure. Let’s acknowledge, she says, that they also bring potential changes for our legal infrastructure, where we can avoid risks and tragedies by nothing more than the stroke of a pen. 

I’ll forbear speculation on the likelihood of a little foresight being shown.

17 thoughts on “Who will rule the waves?”

  1. Meanwhile, back in the real world, actual sea level keeps on rising by the same miniscule 2-3 mm/year it has since he end ofthe ice age, and even slower in Tuvalu:

    "A scientific review in 2000 reported that based on University of Hawaii gauge data, Tuvalu had experienced a negligible increase in sea-level of 0.07 mm a year over the past two decades, and that ENSO had been a larger factor in Tuvalu's higher tides in recent years.[57] A subsequent study by John Hunter from the University of Tasmania, however, adjusted for ENSO effects and the movement of the gauge (which was thought to be sinking). Hunter concluded that Tuvalu had been experiencing sea-level rise of about 1.2 mm per year.[57][58] The recent more frequent flooding in Tuvalu may also be due to an erosional loss of land during and following the actions of 1997 cyclones Gavin, Hina, and Keli"

    This stuff may be swallowed by the feeble-minded on the campuses of Berkley and East Anglia, but in this part of the word we know why people choose to evacuate their corrupt south Pacific island paradises. And it has nothing to do with miniscule sea level rise

    1. "Meanwhile, back in the real world, actual sea level keeps on rising by the same miniscule 2-3 mm/year it has since he end ofthe ice age" – S Wrathall

      Steve, this has pointed out to you a gazillion times, the rate of seal level rise has not been constant since the last glacial maximum. Do you not comprehend science at all?. No need top answer.


      1. Of course the rate of SLR has been inconsistant. However your own link shows that this rate is not increasing to anything like the rate needed to fulfill the apocalyptic prophesies of the light fiction publishing house known as the IPCC.

  2. Thanks for this Steve. As you point out, it’s important to underline that other factors are speeding up the process of flooding so sea level rise impact estimates may be actually be underestimating the problem. When you add in erosion, salt water infiltration in to groundwater (as Tokelau and other are already experiencing), ENSO, cyclones, and more, evacuation may become necessary long before sea level rise on its own would make it necessary.

  3. Many of these small low lying islands are economically unviable regardless of whether they are at risk of destruction. The only benefit in trying to protect them is as some kind of cultural zoo which I find personally a waste of time and money as well as ethically repugnant.

    To get the biggest return they should seriously start looking at selling their sovereignty now in retrun for resettlement rights and a guarranteed annuity from whatever country takes them over. If they wait around too long they will be essentially left with nothing, especially if the doom mongers are correct and civilisation collapses.

      1. Not everything and only where it serves a purpose. When deciding how to deal with the issue of low lying island nations and climate change, it serves a purpose.

        Wjhereas you perfered method would be what exactly?

          1. Are you implying that cultural diversity somehow equates to bio-diversity?

            If so then were you not a supporter of Western nations imposing their cultural norms on nations who engaged in activities like large scale human sacrifice and cannibalism?

            Keeping people in cultural zoo's seems to me an incredibly self indulgant rich person thing to do.

            1. I was wondering what you meant by cultural zoo.

              Now it's clearer. Such huge leaps in subject association are hard to follow. It appears that you believe island populations exercising self-determination or even the plain old claim of a right-to-existence establishes merely establishes some sort of cultural zoo unless there is an economic payoff. Presumably such zoos are only established by the indulgence of Western nations, nothing to do with the wishes of the economically valueless inhabitants themselves.
              Yes, I disagree wholeheartedly.

              The marine park idea is just another example of possible (actually, real) benefit of island environments that is not immediately measurable in dollars and cents.

              But you're entitled to your viewpoint that there is no value in the inhabitants' cannibals' right to exist and that other considerations simply don't exist i.e. [The only benefit in trying to protect them is as some kind of cultural zoo .

            2. It was you who stated that a Cultural Zoo would be just fine and dandy not me. I personally find the idea ethically repulsive. I don't see any benefit of keeping cultures alive for their own sake. You might want to do so but good luck trying to convince people to spend money doing so.

              Marine and land based parks have an economic as well as societal value. Marine parks tend to increase the value of the associated fishing grounds next to them. Both of them also have a benefit for tourism which can be meassured in economic terms. I am surprised you were unaware of these facts.

            3. Marine and land based parks have an economic as well as societal value. Marine parks tend to increase the value of the associated fishing grounds next to them. Both of them also have a benefit for tourism which can be meassured in economic terms. I am surprised you were unaware of these facts.

              Not me. Nor am I of the fact that not all things need immediate economic benefit to be worth preserving.

  4. Interesting that building an existing island up might qualify it as an artificial island with less economic benefits. Would constructing huge flood defences such as large sea walls be any different? Obviously a large part of the Netherlands has been protected by such a manner and I suspect not all of the land is regarded as artificial.

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