Tuvalu 'Celebrates' As Ocean Inundates It

Global warming is real, natives say, as tide rises

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In just a few days, parts of the island nation of Tuvalu will be inundated with ocean water, forcing many residents to flee for higher ground—if they can find it in this remarkably low-lying land.

This is not unusual by the way. It happens annually and is known as the "king tides" period because these are the highest tides of the year.

But, what is unusual is how the government of Tuvalu promotes this non-phenomenon phenomenon. Coming as it does on the heels of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, the annual tide event is being treated by Tuvalu government officials as a kind of dress rehearsal for what happens when sea water permanently covers the land because of global warming.

Officials this year, for the first time, have given the annual tidal event a celebratory name – the Tuvalu Cultural King Tides Festival—and issued this statement about what the event now means to them.

The remote and sparsely populated archipelago of Tuvalu is a microcosm of the environmental issues we all face. It is also the first sovereign nation faced with becoming uninhabitable due to climate change. If Tuvalu is to disappear, not only a land would be wiped off the maps, but a whole nation with its unique society, culture and traditions will be erased from the Human diversity spectrum.

Determined not to let their cultural patrimony—a remote part of the world’s heritage—slip away, the Tuvaluan people have devised this plan to display, perform and record multiple cultural activities to take place at a most symbolic period of time.

This is not just a publicity stunt. If climate science is right, Tuvalu and islands like it around the globe will disappear within a few decades as warming temperatures bring about rising sea levels. This outcome was identified nearly a year ago by Earthjustice’s Jessica Lawrence, when we submitted a petition to the United Nations Human Rights Council on how climate change threatens the human rights of all Tuvaluans. It was also spotlighted by Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner in a report from the Copenhagen conference last December.

As Martin pointed out, the fate of these defenseless nations may well be in the hands of developed countries like the United States, which created the Industrial Revolution—with its climate warming greenhouse gases—and should take responsibility for nations that are inheriting the sad impacts of that revolution.

Hopefully, those developed nations will do the right thing before Tuvalu simply disappears.

From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.