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  • Thomas Enzendorfer

4 Climate Change Effects on Pacific Small Islands (& How To Help)

According to Donald Trump, climate change is a “hoax”, but ask someone who is a citizen of the south pacific islands and it is a very real thing. In fact, it is affecting their daily lives as they are taking actions to adapt to the rising waters making their home disappear. Pacific island nations are located in the Pacific Ocean that are east of both Australia and the Philippines. These islands go as far west as Papua New Guinea and as far east as Easter Island. This region is often referred to as Oceania – which also includes the continent Australia. These islands are home to millions of people and span millions of square miles of ocean. Hundreds of languages are spoken across thousands of islands and each nation has its own unique traditions and cultures.

At climate conferences, they have been powerful forces fighting for climate change limits and have been pushing their counterparts to demand a more aggressive agreement in a series of closed-door bilateral discussions. At the 2015 Paris climate summit, they pressured larger countries to accept the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than two degrees, over preindustrial levels. They’ve also launched a messaging campaign to signal that they will not let other countries off the hook if they hold back. Here are the four indicators of climate change that are worsening and threatening these islands: health, natural disasters, food security, and rising seas.

Health

Food security and nutrition are already at risk in the Pacific Island region, as the diets of rapidly growing urban population shift to cheaper and less nutritional imported food, such as white rice and wheat. The consequences are already being felt, with high rates of diabetes and obesity affecting the entire region.

Image: Media Matters

Natural disasters

As climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann told Climate Reality, “For a long time, we’ve understood, based on pretty simple physics, that as you warm the ocean’s surface, you’re going to get more intense hurricanes. Whether you get more hurricanes or fewer hurricanes, the strongest storms will tend to become stronger.” Think of a hurricane like an engine and warm, moist air as its fuel.

For these island nations, hurricanes are already a very real threat that has affected their lives. In 2015, Tropical Cyclone Pam hit the Republic of Vanuatu and devastated the nation. It’s considered one of the worst disasters in the country’s history and damages cost the equivalent of 64 percent of the country’s 2016 GDP.

Many small island nations have limited resilience and capacity to respond to and recover from disasters such as these that will only continue. As hurricanes are projected to become more intense due to climate change, Pacific island nations will be especially vulnerable.

Food security Pacific Island farms produce staple food crops (for local consumption), as well as high value horticulture crops and export commodities, which bring precious income to farmers. Changes in temperature and rainfall will affect some crops more severely than others, bringing new challenges to food security and potentially hurting incomes. Tuna is also one of their major food supplies, which is dwindling and migrating from their area due to warming waters.

Rising Seas

Pacific island sea levels are growing faster than average. Some islands have already been swallowed whole and disappeared. These islands are already having to face a choice between relocating or elevating, both of which cost enormous amounts of capital and resources.

What can we do to support these small islands?

For starters, we must demand climate action from a local to global level- especially pressuring the United States to participate in global climate agreements and sustainable energy development. Our personal behaviors can sum up to make a great impact on the environmental footprint, so we must start with our own individual behaviors (going electric, installing solar, banning plastic) while using our voices to vote for candidates who support clean energy and action on climate change. We truly have a responsibility to one another in the fight against climate change and there’s not one country who won’t feel the effects if we do not act urgently.

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