Letting the Pacific drown


55c8ab7106be251619d1The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide stood at 400 parts per million — more or less where we are today — sea levels were at least 20 metres higher. What will be left of the Pacific island nations and their vibrant cultures when that happens?

The Pacific Island Forum is meeting in the Marshall Islands this week, and the president of the Marshalls, Christopher Loeak is determined to persuade the attendees to sign the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, calling for greater action on climate change — and for more leadership on the issue from the Pacific’s two great powers, Australia and New Zealand. With Australia locked in the final throes of a general election that seems depressingly certain to lumber them with a climate denier as prime minister, it falls to John Key to act on our neighbour’s life and death struggle.

Unfortunately, it seems Key isn’t keen to listen — unless it’s to the siren voices of the economic interests in NZ that want nothing done. The NZ Herald reports Key’s response to chiding by Marshall Islands deputy premier Tony de Brum :

Mr Key responded by saying he understood the danger the Marshalls faced but New Zealand produced only a small amount of the world’s total emissions and if it reduced its pollution levels it would have little effect on the islands.

De Brum’s reply is a classic of its kind:

… the Marshalls felt New Zealand and Australia, as its “big brothers”, needed to put aside their “you-go-first” attitude and show leadership in the region. Mr de Brum told local media that New Zealand’s new emissions reduction target — 5 per cent below 1990 levels — was a joke.

Key’s response is as leaden and mean-spirited as we’ve come to expect from his government and its spokesmen. Everyone knows and understands that New Zealand and the Pacific Island nations cannot solve the climate problem on their own. But NZ has a long and a proud heritage of going boldly where other countries fear to tread, whether that’s votes for women or marriage equality. What’s at issue is leadership, and building a multilateral response that delivers a future that’s worth having.

Taking on action to reduce emissions, to adapt to the climate change that’s now inevitable, and to help our neighbours is more than a matter of economics. It’s a matter of morality and ethics, and it’s also very much in our own self interest. It’s the right thing to do.

New Zealand is a Pacific nation, geographically, ethnically and in spirit. We who live here, whatever our whakapapa, are linked to the rest of the Pacific by ties that bind more closely than economics or trade. This is our place, our part of the world, and it’s beginning to change rapidly. The Pacific Ocean is girding its loins, starting to lap ever higher up beaches and closer to homes — an inexorable rise that will wipe out whole nations. We have time to turn things around — just barely — but only if we are bold and take the leadership role we should be proud to accept.


  1. I’m surprised Key isn’t more concerned about climate change. His holiday home in Hawaii will be underwater too, just like the rest of the Pacific Islands. Not to mention all the million-dollar beach-front second homes owned by National Party members and supporters…

  2. “The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide stood at 400 parts per million — more or less where we are today — sea levels were at least 20 metres higher.”
    So why isn’t the sea 20 metres higher now, asks my grandson. I need help to frame an answer in reasonably simple language.

    • Fern, prepare yourself for the horrifying answer behind this question.

      The reason the ocean is not as high as it was the last time Carbon Dioxide was the same level as it is in our atmosphere now, is because that water level increase was generated over hundreds of thousands of years. The carbon last reached those levels when the entire planet was covered in vast primordial vegetation which over thousands of years produced massive amounts of carbon. The normal ebb and flow of these global issues normally take millennia to build up, what humans however have done, in a mere couple of hundred years since the industrial revolution is something the planet has NEVER in its 4 billion years ever had to deal with. We have produced carbon at a rate far beyond the biospheres capacity to adapt to, we are in unchartered territory as to what this will produce.

    • Fern, the simplest answer is that ice takes a long time to melt, especially when it’s in the form of a thick, solid block. Ice is not a very good transmitter of heat at all, so the melting happens at the surface. You could show your grandson how slowly a 1 kg block of ice melts when compared to 1 litre in smaller cubes, where the surface area is greater compared to the volume. Then explain to him how thick the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are. If he’s old enough, he could do this little experiment himself. There are all sorts of variations – melt the ice on two days with different temperatures. On a day that’s a couple of degrees warmer, it will melt faster, but not by much. The extra 20 metres of seawater might not happen overnight, but it will happen if we change nothing.

      • “The extra 20 metres of seawater might not happen overnight, but it will happen if we change nothing”.

        But it will also happen if we all stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow. The CO2 concentration is already at 400ppm and that won’t go dow for hundreds of years. Plenty of time for the ice to melt like it did last time and raise water levels by 20 metres.

        • A very good point, Clarence. As I noted in my first post at TDB, acknowledging the long term reality has very important implications for what we do about emissions over the next century. If we want to stop the sea encroaching too far, we need to go beyond emissions reductions to actually lowering the atmospheric CO2 load. Unless, of course, we’re happy to kiss goodbye to a huge amount of very productive low-lying land…

    • You could tell your grandson that warming up a very big thing like the earth takes a very long time. It’s a bit like trying to push a car – very hard to get it moving, but then it’s easier to keep it going. Increasing the amount carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is like getting more and more friends to help you push – the car will get faster and faster until you can’t keep up any more.

  3. “What will be left of the Pacific island nations and their vibrant cultures when that happens?”
    What will be left of Christchurch when that happens? Or many other cities around NZ & the world. The 20m contour in ChCh meanders through Avonhead, Sockburn, Halswell and makes the frantic efforts to rebuild the CBD a bit hollow. Maybe Bishop Victoria realises more than most give her credit for. The cardboard cathedral’s 50 year life expectancy may be spot on.

    • I see I am not the only person to wonder at the wisdom of rebuilding Christchurch in the same place as though there was no risk from climate change. Try this web site and set the level to one meter and look at Christchurch and Auckland airport. http://flood.firetree.net/
      One meter sea level rise will be catastrophic we don’t need to wait for twenty meters.

      • Wow…

        With just a 20m rise, you can say goodbye to all of the coastal townships and many of our cities.

        And in addition, do you notice all of the large land masses which are below the 20 meter level? Those are our most fertile land areas which are used for growing food. So not only will many, many people be displaced, but there will be nowhere to grow food for them either.

  4. Perhaps Christchurch should be re-build with everything on barge-like foundations so that the buildings, cathedral and all, will float up when the time comes, to be moored elsewhere…. At least putting that into the building requirements might make people take note…. 😉

    • Building codes in Christchurch already require that the foundations for coastal properties be much higher.

      This is causing quite a few headaches for insurance claims though

  5. A lot of the Pacific Island people are due to settle in New Zealand when their islands go under water. At least there are only a few thousand of them compared with the many millions of people who will be on the move from more populous areas.

  6. Key’s answer that “We’ll help them with the move” as one of the things he will do to help climate change in the Pacific, is what I would expect of a smart ass 12 yo. Australia will not be the only large South Pacific economy to have a Climate Change denier as PM. Our very own Key was a denier until he took office and now, believes that it is a real ‘phenomenon’ which is a term that is used by those with money invested in nothing changing, that denies human causes of climate change.
    But thank Neptune & Tangaroa Key is not representative of the average New Zealander (ever). Here is something being done in NZ that is trying to help and create jobs to cheer us all up after even having to think about Key and his relentless awfulness. http://cleantechnz.co.nz/about-the-centre/
    Lets change this dam Government already.

    • “Lets change this dam Government already.”
      The trouble is that we have a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Even the Greens are half-baked in their calling the other parties to account. We’re staring down the muzzle of needing a 90% reduction in carbon release and should be throwing everything we’ve got at cutting fossil fuel use entirely and possibly reducing our dairy herds substantially but Our Glorious Leaders are espousing 5%.
      I realise the Greens are trapped in a “politics is the art of the possible” scenario, there’s no point in taking an unpopular stance if it results in losing your seat. You’ll achieve even less outside parliament, but couldn’t someone stand up and call a spade an effin n*g*r!!! There’s so much we could be doing, but the politicians are fiddling while the planet burns.

      • Even if we shut down the entire NZ economy, it would make no measurable impact on global CO2 emissions, let alone “climate change”

      • “Lets change this dam Government already.”

        I think you mean “damned government”.

        A dam is a structure used to hold back water and form a lake.

  7. The debate on climate change has now been going on for bloody decades. What has been achieved? Stuff all, is the answer. We have a global society, or assembly of societies that are in firm control of the economic powers that insist on continuing the fossil fuel age.

    Whether petroleum extracting, coal mining or any other industries, they cater for the power plant operators, the steel works and the motor industry, to keep things going, no matter what.

    Most people, in democratic or not so democratic countries, they all depend on energy for survival and jobs. They are held hostage, but to be honest they also are willing hostages, as they will not forgo the “benefits” of enjoying the energy they still have.

    So most of the world live in industrialised or post industrialised societies, and they need energy. They will not stop using it, will not stop burning fossil fuels and not stop driving cars, until they see the very consequences themselves. That is why nobody really gives a damned SHIT about what goes on in the Pacific and elsewhere, as it does NOT affect them.

    That is the shocking and sad truth. Only such articles and threads as this one may offer some chance to get some to rethink, but I am afraid most do not even bother reading it. I have experienced it so often, what most humans are all about, they are never willing to make true sacrifices, if it requires some restrictions and limitations they are simply not prepared to accept.

    We are having to face the inevitable end time scenario, I am afraid, and it will come, but it will be too late to change then.

    God help the human race some say, I have given up long ago, and humans are not a ‘race’ anyway, by the way.

    Either pollution, starvation, war, civil war, ecological break down or whatever, that is what we will face, for sure, but lemmings keep running off the cliff, as they know nothing better to do.

    I feel sorry and ashamed that the people on these islands are simply “sacrificed” for others’ lifestyles.

      • The vast bulk of electricity in NZ is generated by hydro electric plants, not by burning fossil fuels. Also I am a very frugal person and still use a computer that is over 10 years old.

        I use public transport for travel, and also use energy and consumer products wisely. Hence my carbon foot print is very much below the average of NZers.

        I ask you what your carbon foot print looks like, so after that you can come back and lecture me on my use of the internet and reading and contributing on this blog!

        The issue is not about using energy, but using fossil fuel generated energy to the levels as it is happening. The issue is a consumerist wasteful life-style that many follow, which is also contributing to unfairness in the use and distribution of energy, so many have too little or none in the form of electricity, while others have more than they would need.

        There are alternatives, but too many governments – NZ’s included, do not do enough to bring about the needed change.

        • I am not lecturing you. Energy to run the internet is quite substantial. Google, for example, is amongst the biggest consumers of electricity in many US states. They may be taking initiatives to use various renewable options, but I suspect a lot of it is coal based generation. So your PC may be 10 years old, but all that infrastructure that we don’t see is what chews up the energy

          What is my “carbon footprint”? Good question. I work from home and live in a small town in rural NZ, so don’t need a car so much.

          I don’t make any deal about it because I can see through the BS

          • “Google, for example, is amongst the biggest consumers of electricity in many US states. They may be taking initiatives to use various renewable options, but I suspect a lot of it is coal based generation.”

            What are you trying to prove or argue with this? I avoid using Google as they have their tracking cookies and gather browser data to sell to their advertisers, so I try to use other search engines. I am also blocking Google analytics and stuff, as I object to what they are doing. I hardly use Facebook and certain other services, for similar reasons.

            Of course I know that certain providers use a lot of electricity for their large scale servers and networks, but that has to be broken down per user to establish the usage per person at the receiving end. I would argue that the “energy” I use by using anything connected to Google or other service providers is all that great.

            As for electricity generation I favour solar thermal generation plants (ideal for desert locations), which have so far not been built in enough numbers. But they are more effective and economical than the ordinary solar panels. Of course science is moving fast, and while some alternative, regenerative energy generation may still require subsidies, this will change in the near future, yes is in some places already taking place.

            As for computer and internet use, I feel that much use is wasteful and trivial by end-consumers, and if it was used for truly important information exchanges, education and whatever, we would not need to waste so much energy and hardware resources as we do. Sadly too many love tweeting as twits on Twitter, posting endless personal drivel on Facebook, and whatever else in useless personal activities.

  8. Like many acts of treachery……

    Its all about money

    Judas sold his savior for 30 pieces of silver, a huge fortune for the time.

    And so it is with climate change…..

    On 1ZB raidio John Key has claimed that, “Taking action on climate change will cost jobs.”

    In fact the opposite is the case.

    Two weeks ago, in one particularly dirty act, 1033 permanent jobs in the renewable sector were cancelled* because coal was cheaper. And not just any coal, imported Indonesian coal. Probably the most destructively mined coal on the planet**.

    Having found the most ruinous source, of the most environmentally destructive fuel on earth, as well as cancelling 1033 jobs in the renewable sector, they are laying off dozens of local coal miners for this cheap coal***.

    These two facts make a lie of the claim that it is the environmentalists who are the job killers. It is the vendors of the fossil fuel industry who are killing jobs, as well as drowning the Island nations. The truth is they don’t give a damn about jobs or the environment. It is all about making money for themselves.

    It has been said that the definition of a capitalist is; “A capitalist is someone who would supply the rope being sold to hang them with, if they could make money on it”.

    Unfortunately in the case of climate change, they are supplying the rope that will be used to hang us all.

    The concept is simple. We all understand it. Coal is putting a sheet of glass over the world. The resulting new ‘Green House World’ will kill millions of human beings, men, woman and children, as drought, floods, famine, heatwaves, superstorms, become the norm.

    *A move by Contact Energy to back out of a windfarm on the Waikato’s west coast has blown away hundreds of potential jobs in a move described as another disappointment to a region buffeted by lay-offs.

    The Hauauru ma raki venture, planned for the coast between Port Waikato and Raglan, was expected to inject $180 million into the regional economy, including $115m of household income over a five-year construction period. It was also tipped to create an estimated 1033 jobs once operational and generate enough power for around 170,000 homes, with its 168 turbines dwarfing the 28 turbines at the region’s next biggest windfarm at Te Uku…..

    ….Waikato District Council Mayor Allan Sanson said he was not too surprised by the news.

    “It was always going to be marginal in relation to the fact that there was already generating capacity and surplus available.”


    **Lamida Atas Village and Juai Village, were displaced by the expansion of the mine in 2003. The incidence of violence against residents and environmental activists has increased as the company pushes ahead with operations. Meanwhile it seems the security forces don’t want to take any responsibility for this.

    In other districts of South Kalimantan a range of problems are evident. In Tanah Bumbu District, some mining is going on within a protected mountain forest. River barges have been used to transport coal since 1999 causing widespread contamination of the water with fuel oil. Previously, fisherfolk from Satui village fishing in the estuary could earn fifty thousand to two hundred thousand Rupiah a day. Now daily earnings have reduced to between thirty thousand and a hundred thousand. The Salajuan River is drying up, the water is turning black and it can’t be used by residents for their daily needs. Local people suffer from coughs, shortness of breath and eye diseases.

    ***EPMU national mining advocate Ray Urquhart says state-owned Genesis Energy is being disingenuous about its role in mining job losses….

    ….The Huntly East mine’s largest customer, New Zealand Steel, has also been importing Indonesian coal at the cost of jobs.

    • Contact Energy pulled out of the windfarm project because wind energy is not economically viable in NZ (because of the lack of subsidies).

      They are focusing their efforts on geothermal energy, which in my view is better all round as a renewable energy source in NZ

      • Rubbish. The reason some windfarm developments are not proceeding (for example: Mainpower’s Mt Cass proposal) is that there is too much uncertainty in the power market, and the risk of significant oversupply in the medium term (Tiwai Point/Manapouri).

        • I was basing my reasoning on the Deloittes report which made the case that wind energy is a very risky investment in NZ.

          So if wind energy is economically viable in NZ, why does every other country in the world pour lavish subsidies on it?

          Furthermore, the lifetime of the turbines is looking to be much less than originally thought, maybe 15 years.
          They are already looking replacing turbines in the Wellington area. What happens to the non-recyclable parts like the blades? Do these get dumped in some massive landfill?

          They don’t actually provide any additional capacity to the grid; all they do is displace other generation (like hydro) when the wind is blowing

          Wind energy is a dying industry and it will die off first in NZ. That day cannot come soon enough

            • Gareth, your off-topic allegation should be directed at Jenny up-thread, not AndyS, who was merely responding to the topic she raised. Or is this a case of one rule for skeptics….

              • How can it be off topic?

                It can only be off topic, if you think that cutting back C02 emissions has no relation to climate change which is affecting the weather and the oceans.

                Here is a project that would let us shut down Huntly Coal fired Power Station. And also provide 1033 permanent jobs. The very thing that the island nations are calling for the developed nations to do.

                The project was not shut down because of lack of subsidies for wind power. This project was shut down because of the massive subsidies for the hidden costs of coal, costs which the coal companies don’t have to meet. Those paying these costs are on the drowning low lying Pacific Islands.

                Yet if the coal companies did have to pay for their damage……, immediately wind power and other renewables would be more than competitive. We could start reversing the damage being done.

                • This page shows how much of NZ’s electricity comes from coal


                  i.e stuff all

                  So you can shut down Huntly, save maybe 10% of NZ’s coal-based energy, replace it with something else that will still have some emissions profile
                  Assuming for sake of argument that 10% of the electricity in NZ is generated from coal, NZ’s contribution to global CO2 is 0.1%, then you save max 0.01% of global CO2 emissions, which would be replaced by the Chinese in a matter of hours.

                  So any actions are purely symbolic.

                • Hi Jenny – I assume your question is directed at Gareth, as it was he that said that discussion of wind power was off-topic here.

  9. These Pacific coral atolls are only a couple metres above the surface – always have been, always will be. Coral grows at about 1cm per year. Sea level rise is purported to be less than one third of that and is not accelerating. The Pacific nations are looking for easy money. The science doesn’t back their claims of inundation or increasing storm severity, which is probably why John Key is giving them $5m of our money to build water storage/filtration plants. He’s not putting money into half-cocked schemes, but into something practical. The increased population of these nations has meant more use of groundwater supplies which in some cases are now becoming briny.

    By the way, at current rates of sea level rise 20m will take over 6,500 years. By which time we will probably be well into the next ice age. Enjoy the interglacial.

    • Sorry Mike, but you need to read a little outside the crank echo chamber. You seem to have absorbed a lot of misinformation from the likes of Treadgold and Watts.

      Sea level rise over the next century is likely to exceed adaptive possibilities for most low-lying Pacific Islands, but ocean warming leading to increased bleaching events and acidification affecting coral and ocean ecosystems is likely to be at least as damaging to their well-being. Their fears are well-founded, and your rejection of them tasteless and demeaning.

      • Thanks for the demeaning ad-hom response, Gareth, as per usual. [Snipped for tasteless accusations. Mike. You need to learn the meaning of ad hominem. If you would like to debate the science with me, I would be very happy to offer you a glass of wine and a face-to-face discussion. Email me via the contact form at Hot Topic if you would like to explore that option. Our beagles might enjoy meeting too… 😉 ]

        Back on topic though, you say “Sea level rise over the next century is likely to exceed adaptive possibilities for most low-lying Pacific Islands.” If you can cite an independent study supporting your claim, I would be interested. The key word is independent. A study funded by a government keen to find a crisis and therefore a reason it can put it’s hand out to the UN, NZ, Australia and anyone else gullible enough, would not cut it.

        • Your ad-hom was directed at Treadgold and Watts, regarding misinformation. It was entirely unnecessary imo. As were your strawmen regarding ocean warming, coral bleaching and ocean acidification – all off-topic. So why do you think my rebuttal to these two logical fallacies was tasteless? And would you care to respond to my main point?

          BTW – maybe one day we can relax over a wine and all this hysteria will have mellowed a bit. Here’s hoping.

          • Pointing out that someone has a track record of disseminating misinformation is not ad hominem (look up the meaning of the term). Nor are acidification and ocean warming “straw men” or off-topic for the peoples of the Pacific.

            What was tasteless was your explicit accusation that this was a “scare” being manipulated by Pacific nations to get money.

            I’ll repeat my offer: a glass of wine and a discussion of the basic science. We’ll disagree about the politics, I’m sure, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t share a common view of the underlying facts.

            • Without a specific example of this alleged misinformation, this is essentially an attack on the person, imo. I’m sure Richard Treadgold would see it that way too. Anyway, as far as this debate goes it was entirely unnecessary as it simply tried to denigrate my message rather than addressing it directly, so definitely a logical fallacy.

              Thank you for your kind offer, Gareth, which I will be happy to accept when time permits. However, as this is a publicly-viewed blog I am interested in you publicly citing an independent study of your assertion that “Sea level rise over the next century is likely to exceed adaptive possibilities for most low-lying Pacific Islands.” If that is not possible, c’est la vie. Happy to discuss in private also.

              • Pointing out that someone is wrong (or doing something wrong) is not in itself ad hominem. A (purely hypothetical) ad hominem attack on Treadgold would be “Richard is wrong because he’s old and fat”.

                When the AR5 Working Group 2 chapter on the Pacific Islands is released next March it will contain a handy reference list of papers (from many and various organisations) that support my contention. In the meantime, you might want to look at the references in that section of AR4 – though they are of course now rather dated.

        • MIKE JOWSEY – I think you just shot yourself in your own foot, so to say. There are limits to coral growth and there is a speeding up of temperature rises across the globe, also affecting sea water. So do not rely on some old figures that will soon be disproved.

          And further to corals and reefs, there has been a significant increase in corals dying due to pollution, human interference, sea temperature rises and other causes already over past decades, even affecting the Great Barrier Reef. Dying and dead corals won’t grow much at all, and the many atolls in the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu Kiribati and other places have already issues with more frequent flooding and with seawater getting into the ground, causing ground water to get salty and harmful.

          You better gather some more relevant and up to date information, as your arguments are not convincing. See below for some details:


          Extract from Wikipedia:
          “Coral reefs are under stress around the world.[29] In particular, coral mining, agricultural and urban runoff, pollution (organic and inorganic), overfishing, blast fishing, disease, and the digging of canals and access into islands and bays are localized threats to coral ecosystems. Broader threats are sea temperature rise, sea level rise and pH changes from ocean acidification, all associated with greenhouse gas emissions.[30] In 1998, 16% of the world’s reefs died as a result of increased water temperature.[31]

          General estimates show approximately 10% of the world’s coral reefs are dead.[32][33][34] About 60% of the world’s reefs are at risk due to human-related activities.[35] The threat to reef health is particularly strong in Southeast Asia, where 80% of reefs are endangered.[citation needed] Over 50% of the world’s coral reefs may be destroyed by 2030; as a result, most nations protect them through environmental laws.[36]

          In the Caribbean and tropical Pacific, direct contact between ~40–70% of common seaweeds and coral causes bleaching and death to the coral via transfer of lipid-soluble metabolites.[37] Seaweed and algae proliferate given adequate nutrients and limited grazing by herbivores such as parrotfish.

          Water temperature changes of more than 1–2 °C (1.8–3.6 °F) or salinity changes can kill some species of coral. Under such environmental stresses, corals expel their Symbiodinium; without them coral tissues reveal the white of their skeletons, an event known as coral bleaching.[38]”

          • So the coral is dying because of minute changes in pH and ocean temperatures, and has nothing to do with building, fishing, tourism and various other practices that go on in these islands?

            • ANDYS –

              What is your point? The Wikipedia entry covers more than the extract I showed in my comment, and it certainly includes various human activities, which add to the destruction and harming of coral reefs all over the globe.

              And whether you like it or not, there is broad consensus amongst scientists, that global climate change, also leading to warming of atmosphere and water, is to a substantial degree also caused by human pollution (emissions from human activities using fossil fuels).

              Picking a few bits of information to try and discredit established comprehensive scientific reports and findings is a silly exercise and will lead you to nothing, but “insular” thinking.

              • Picking a few bits of information to try and discredit established comprehensive scientific reports and findings is a silly exercise and will lead you to nothing, but “insular” thinking.

                describes modern “climate science” to a tee, and in more general terms, “progressive thinking”

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