Words by Zayan Ismail Art by Joelle Thomas
Whilst Europe endures a sweltering heatwave, Australia faces yet another drier than average winter. In conjunction to this, the World Meteorological Organisation and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have all concluded that the period of 2015-2019 is going to be the hottest consecutive five year period on record.
Who is the culprit of this calamitous reality you ask? We’ve all heard it before. It is us humans who have induced and exacerbated global warming and climate change—two phrases synonymous with the unsustainable industrial development and the consequential rise of carbon emissions. Two phrases so comfortably used in our everyday vernacular, it probably needs to be trademarked.
Growing up in the small island nation of the Maldives, I was taught from a very young age of the grim consequences that we have to face due to human-induced global warming. I have seen it and experienced it first-hand. When I settled in Australia for my studies, it struck me as ridiculous that disingenuous politicians have treated climate change as a bipartisan issue.
People who deny climate change are mostly prompted to protect their own vested interests in big oil or coal corporations. They also rely on their own experiences and what they witness in everyday life. A simple yet extreme change in weather may not drastically alter the livelihoods of those living in a developed nation. However, the impact of climate change is far worse in developing countries.
For Maldivians, climate change is very much a part of their everyday life. People are literally fighting to safeguard their lives.
In the Maldives, the impact of rising temperatures are represented by the pale whiteness on the corals. Due to warmer seawater temperatures and increasing acidity, coral bleaching has been a plaque that seems to amplify itself each passing year. Coral reefs break down strong waves thereby protecting the shore and reducing soil erosion. When the reefs die, soil erosion accelerates resulting in people’s homes being lost. Additionally, the fact that the global sea level has been rising steadily and rapidly over the last decade only makes the situation worse. This has also destroyed agricultural land and salinized freshwater aquifers depleting available sources of drinking water. Over time these islands will become uninhabitable.
I saw this first-hand on the island of Villingili. Not so long ago this island had been a popular spot for tourists. But because of the severe erosion, the once filled guest rooms are now abandoned.
The economy of Maldives has traditionally been based on tourism and fisheries. When climate change continues to ravage the reefs, people’s livelihoods are at risk of being destroyed as well. Over the years Maldivians have learnt how to mitigate, but more so adapt to the impacts of rising sea levels and temperatures. In 2009 the President literally held a cabinet meeting underwater (yes, underwater!) to emphasise what the dire future might look like for Maldivians.
The Maldives is one of many other countries that are having to suffer the same fate. Low lying coral islands such as the Marshall Islands in the Pacific have already faced much hardship. The local Marshallese population have been forced to move out of their damaged homes and migrate overseas prompting the first instance of a climate refugee crisis. Whilst Maldivians have had the good fortune of not having to claim refugee status, we cannot stand by.
Moving my own grievances aside, an extra emphasis must be given to the 2018 IPCC report on the impacts of 1.5°C global warming and climate change. It highlights one very important point. The populations and regions that are at a disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences mostly include local and indigenous communities that are dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods living in dryland regions and small island developing states.
In May 2019, a group of Torres Strait Islanders from the low-lying islands off the northern coast of Australia took action into their own hands. They lodged a complaint against the Australian government at the UN Human Rights Committee on the grounds that they had failed to protect the fundamental human rights of these people due to climate inaction.
Climate change is not only an environmental issue, it is a human issue.
It still baffles me that in 2019 we still have to extend our conversation to those who are lulled into thinking climate change is a hoax. Denying climate change is not a debate based on intellectually sound analysis or accurate information. To put it bluntly, it is pure bullshit. Climate change shouldn’t even be a debate. If we continue to indulge those who deny and don’t act fast, these beautiful islands will cease to exist. The world will lose an ecologically diverse UNESCO Biosphere reserve, its lush and vibrant coral reefs and with it, an entire civilisation of islanders.