One of the most alarming and dramatic effects of global warming is a rise in sea levels, as Earth's rising temperatures cause sea water to expand (thermal expansion) and melting polar ice (glaciers and ice sheets) swells the sea even further. Illustrating the devastating consequences of this increase in sea levels are the Polynesian islands that make up Tuvalu, the fourth smallest country in the world that lies halfway between Australia and Hawaii. As global temperatures warm and sea levels rise, saltwater intrusion, erosion of coastal land, sea flooding, and more dangerous and destructive storms are forcing the 11,000 inhabitants of Tuvalu out of their country and away from their culture, potentially for good (earth-policy.org).
Tuvalu's collection of nine islands, five of which are atolls, are especially vulnerable to changes in sea levels, as the country's highest point is just 5 metres (approximately 16 feet) above sea level. It is estimated that a rise of 20 – 40 centimetres (8-16 inches) could make Tuvalu uninhabitable. With the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predicting this increase within the next century, the threat of Tuvalu disappearing altogether is very real.
Not only is Tuvalu subject to rising sea levels, but it is also subject to what the islanders call the King Tides, higher than average tides that submerge roads and threaten homes, wildlife, and lives. The surging water also saturates the ground with salt (saltwater intrusion), making it impossible to grow food crops such as coconut and contaminating drinking water. Though not a direct result of global-warming-related climate change, the impact of the large tides is exacerbated by it.
In 1978, the University of Hawaii installed a tide gauge at Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, and has recorded a sea level rise of 1.2 mm per year, a measurement consistent with the IPCC's estimated rise over the 20th century . This does not take into account a possible collapse of either the Greenland ice sheet or the West Antarctic ice sheet, which would result in a sea level rise of at least 5 metres (16 feet), and in the disappearance of Tuvalu completely.
In 2003, three years after becoming the second smallest nation to join the United Nations, Tuvalu Prime Minister Saufatu Sopoanga said “We live in constant fear of the adverse impacts of climate change. For a coral atoll nation, sea level rise and more severe weather events loom as a growing threat to our entire population. The threat is real and serious, and is of no difference to a slow and insidious form of terrorism against us.” So what will happen to the 11,000 plus population of Tuvalu? Some have called for Australia, New Zealand or Kioa (Fiji) to accept the refugees, but there has been no confirmation that this will be the final solution.
Tuvalu is not the only nation facing this threat, and it is not only islands that are facing it. The IPCC predicted that a 1-metre (just over 3-foot) rise in sea levels would flood half of Bangaladesh’s rice land, displacing millions of people. In just the last century, we have already seen a rise of 20–30 centimetres.
We all need to do our bit for the environment, which includes knowing the facts about what is happening. In our own lives, making a difference means recycling wherever possible, reusing packaging for our own businesses, and turning lights off whenever we're not in a room. Turning the thermostat down a couple of degrees during colder weather and wearing warmer clothing means less heat into the atmosphere and less fossil fuel burned in power plants. Buying handmade goods made with recycled, vintage, and reclaimed materials like those in many of our team's shops is a great way to reduce waste and be kind to Earth, too. And, of course, being veg is one of the most powerful acts one can do to reduce their impact on the planet and help the environment!
So lets celebrate Earth Day this April 22nd and try and make each day an Earth Day in whatever way we can. Small efforts from each of us make a huge difference around the world.