about this poem
The earth is warming, causing
sea levels to slowly rise and storms to become more violent. Sea levels are
rising because (1) water expands when it warms and therefore takes up more space, and
(2) the warmer climate is melting polar ice caps and mountain glaciers,
adding water to the world's oceans.
People living on low-lying coral atolls
Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tokelau and the Marshall Islands, have recently seen many of their beautiful islets
underwater, swallowed up by the rising sea. They have also seen
alarming changes on their larger islands. Ocean tides now reach higher
up on shore so that when storm surges occur, waves break into homes and
other buildings prompting evacuations of people.
Freshwater supplies needed for drinking
and agriculture lie just below the surface of the atolls, and become easily
contaminated by rising ground salt water and by flooding from storm surges.
When this happens, islands can become unfit for human habitation long before
they are completely covered by the rising sea.
Because global warming is expected to
increase in the future, sea levels are predicted to rise even more and
storms to become even more violent. This fact, coupled with the
inability of the international community to adequately reduce the emissions of
greenhouse gases that cause global warming, means that low-lying atolls and their
inhabitants face a dim future.
The author of this poem points out
another problem: while the logistics of resettling people to other islands
may be relatively simple, "the longer term impact of resettling people whose
ancestral and spiritual roots are buried so deeply in the ground [of their
native atolls] is yet to be fully comprehended."
The terror caused by rising sea levels and
its displacement of atoll peoples from their lands and properties
is a homeland security issue for island nations. In an address before the United Nations
Security Council, the representative of Tuvalu recently stated that "our
national security is threatened by environmental degradation emanating from
outside the country. Here I refer specifically to the environmental impacts
of climate change and sea level rise and the loss of biological diversity
[from overfishing]. The impact of climate change has the potential to
threaten the survival of our entire nation."
The author of Our People on the Reef,
Jane Resture, was born on Kiribati and has lived on several other Pacific
atolls. She holds a PhD in Anthropology with a specialization in
Pacific Island Studies, and has received two knighthoods for her work in the
preservation of Pacific Island heritage.
For more information about climate change
and a review of the scientific evidence for it,
see the July 20, 2005
statement by the President of the U.S. National Academy of
Sciences, made under oath while testifying before the United States Senate
Subcommittee on Global Climate Change and Impacts.
Photographs: Marshall Island girls
by Jared Alessandroni (USA); King tide on Kiribati, February 2005, by Greenpeace.