For some, climate change means losing everything

There is a moral imperative that in addressing the impact of climate change we heed the messages from islands and other needy countries threatened by rising seas. [9 September 2008 | Peter Boyer]

It’s easy to become self-absorbed when we’re being assaulted on all sides by a world that seems to be getting ever more frenetic with each new war or hurricane or political fracas. But this week, I think we should pause and give a thought to some people far away from Tasmania.

In Australia, the drying of our continent’s south and south-east, almost certainly the result of a changing climate, is likely to have dire consequences. But there are some for whom climate change means the loss of everything – even the land under their feet.

I had in mind writing about some other things this week – the Premier’s fuel summit for one, and the Garnaut team’s interim targets for Australia. But when I got my head around a message from a group called, all the rest seemed unimportant.

“Avaaz” means “voice” in many Asian and European languages. is a global web movement with over three million members whose mission is at once simple and massively ambitious: “to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want”.

Right now, Avaaz is focusing on one certain outcome of climate change – the loss of low-lying land as a result of steadily rising seas, caused by warming ocean waters and melting land ice.

In countries like Bangladesh, straddling a big river delta and almost everywhere 10 metres or less above sea level, the prospect of rising seas means colossal human dislocation that will have world-wide ramifications.

But in places like the Pacific nation of Kiribati or the Indian Ocean’s Maldive Islands, the prospect is even grimmer. Island nations the world over – but especially in our own oceanic region – are doomed to disappear this century.

Next week, ambassadors from these countries will be putting a resolution to the United Nations calling on the Security Council to address climate change as a pressing threat to international peace and security. Their case will include a petition from the Avaaz movement.

In talking about climate change I don’t spend much time on matters of morality, partly because in Australia we take a dim view of “moralising”, preferring to be “realistic” and “practical”. But if morality has any meaning, it has to be the impact of climate change on defenceless peoples.

Consider this: Australians are among the world’s richest people, with a relatively high capacity to resist the impact of climate change, while Bangladesh, Kiribati and others are among the poorest, with no such capacity. Individual Australians are among the highest contributors to greenhouse emissions, while emissions from residents of those other places are practically zero.

As President Remengesau of Palau put it: “For island states, time is not running out. It has run out. Our path may very well be the window to your own future and the future of our planet.”

Let Avaaz have the final say. “This is a creative move born of desperation, a challenge to global powers to tackle this lethal crisis with the urgency of wars. But the island states’ campaign is meeting fierce opposition from the world’s biggest polluters, so they need our help.

“Sign the petition now to raise a worldwide chorus of support for this call. It will be presented by the islands’ ambassadors to reinforce their resolution at the UN next week.”

The place to go is <>.

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