The first climate evacuation: what have we learned.

The first climate evacuation: what have we learned?

Dan Box

28th July, 2009

Earlier this year, journalist Dan Box won recognition from environmentalist George Monbiot for documenting the world’s first climate change evacuation, of the Carteret islands in the South Pacific. Now, he returns to his experiences to ask if this is the first evacuation of many, how should we do it in future?

What happens when you want to move a state? What happens when the Maldives moves to India and says it wants to still be the Maldives?

Ruth Marcella was crippled at birth and it hurts to walk this far around her island. But she is determined and, swinging her twisted hip, leads me through the palm trees to the white beach and the blue South Pacific ocean.

As she shows off her tiny homeland, Han, one of the Carteret Islands in the far east of Papua New Guinea, Ruth keeps saying sorry quietly. I think she is apologising, and ask her why.

‘I am sorry for my island,’ Ruth replies. ‘I believe that one day this island will disappear, and we won’t have this island. We will lose it.’

Behind us men are cutting down dead breadfruit trees for firewood. Once pawpaw, taro and banana grew here, but no more. The ocean, Ruth says, is rising. Trees that once stood in the forest are now 20 metres out among the waves. Many that remain are poisoned by salt water. The islanders are hungry, and afraid.

The Carterets, it has been decided, will be abandoned, in what is the world’s first official evacuation of an entire people because of climate change. If global warming continues as we expect, many more will soon suffer the same fate. But how do you move an entire people? No one knows. It has been left to these islanders to set a…


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