Around halfway between Hawaii and northern Australia, the Marshall Islands are a long way from anywhere. It would be hard to find a place more remote. And in the glory of the sun, the Marshall Islands seem to be a tropical paradise.
But the sprawling array of coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean is characterized by stark and tragic contrasts. With its coconut palms, white sands, turquoise waters, coral reefs, and friendly people it should be a major tourist hub. Yet many of the 1,156 islands are uninhabitable, and the isolation that makes The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) so attractive to adventurous tourists also made it the perfect place for extensive U.S. nuclear bomb testing between 1946 and 1958.
Poisoned and displaced in the past, the citizens of the Marshall Islands face an even more uncertain future. At an average elevation of just two meters above sea level, rising tides caused by melting ice caps are on course to swallow up the atolls in the next two or three decades, submerging the islands and leaving its 59,000 people homeless.
Marshallese poet and climate change activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner chillingly stated:
I wanna tattoo this number to my forehead: Marshall Islands as a nation actually contributes 0.00001% of the worlds global emissions. And yet we are the ones set to disappear first.
Life, for the Marshallese, is brutally unfair.
Aware of the fate that awaits them, the Marshallese government and former President Hilda Hiene have been active in promoting climate change action. Marshall Islands and other Micronesian students have also spoken at UN gatherings to highlight the peril that countries at low elevation face.
The dangers are literally on their doorsteps, says Sean Stelten, a tropical weather forecaster living in the RMI. Were already seeing the effects of it in certain areas. Theres one island near me where we keep seeing palm trees dying and falling at the end of the island due to erosion caused by higher seas.
It sort of puts a shot clock on our existence, former chief secretary and advisor to the Marshallese president Ben Graham told National Geographic. Its not a 30-second shot clock, but a 30-year shot clock.
And its not just a Marshallese problem. In fact, some 200 million people around the world face the prospect of losing their lands to rising tides by 2100. The majority of these are in impoverished countries with booming populations such as Bangladesh, ...