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Speaker: Misrepresenting Kiribati and climate change

22 Responses

  • Thalia KR,

    Thank you, this is very helpful.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2014 • 5 posts Report

  • James Littlewood*,

    Thank God. I wondered if it was something like that. Thanks tons Suzy for this thoroughly reasoned piece.

    Maybe if the NZ Govt had been keeping up to date with its refugee obligations (or even - imagine - extending them), then Mr Teitiota might not have had the rising tide on which to float his campaign.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 410 posts Report

  • RuralJohnny,

    The lesson for New Zealanders to learn from this episode is that someone had to be first to claim climate refugee status, and whilst that claim may be fallacious, it is only premature - it will happen again. Are we as a country doing anything now to plan for when it is justifiable and timely?

    Pukekohe • Since Apr 2015 • 4 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,

    I am also very concerned about climate change, however news reports (RNZ) this week said that Mr Teitiota was an overstayer who had been fired from his job for assault on a woman at his place of work. According to the report the police warned him officially but did not charge him (I have no idea what that really means).

    Based on that news report I am considerably less sympathetic to his particular case.

    I agree countries like Kiribati are front and centre of the oncoming disaster and New Zealand will need to play a role in helping the people put at risk.

    I am not however certain that this individual should be the poster child.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • Barry -,

    I think all that you say is true, but...

    I have rarely heard someone speak for a people and find that it applies to 100% of them. Some observations:

    1. Mr Teitiota may have other reasons for wanting to stay in NZ but it doesn't mean that he is not at least partially motivated by fear of climate change caused problems in Kiribati.
    2. There is not a binary point where suddenly climate change makes a place unliveable. Life gradually degrades over time, and people suffer (some dying prematurely). Different people have different tolerance levels and some will leave before everyone needs to.
    3. The refugees arriving in Europe and Australia by boat (and the officially welcomed ones coming here) are not in imminent danger any more that islanders are. Yes they have had to leave home for fear of violence, and where they are in camps is "only" uncomfortable, dangerous and not how we would want to live (which covers half the world's population).
    4. We are welcoming to qualified and wealthy immigrants and a small number of selected refugees but very cold-hearted when it comes to our pacific neighbours. the whole debacle reminds me of Muldoon's dawn raids.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2015 • 7 posts Report

  • harry rickit,

    Mr Teitiota was an overstayer and allegedly a violent man. Two strikes. Worse than that, he acted in his own self-interest, a charge never leveled against white migrants caught in a dilemma. Washing my hands of PA.

    auckland • Since Sep 2015 • 1 posts Report

  • andin,

    The people of Kiribati don’t want to leave yet, and need our help to stay and to adapt to the changing climate with dignity for as long as they can.

    There will be those who will want to move away, be somewhere else, for whatever reason legal or not.
    Until ... well... who knows.. until there are changes, on an ever increasing scale, in human activity over the coming years. Nothing will change. And it may become a useful excuse for some. People!
    And yes Kiribati is beautiful. I say that having spent time there. :))

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1891 posts Report

  • Russell Brown, in reply to harry rickit,

    Mr Teitiota was an overstayer and allegedly a violent man. Two strikes. Worse than that, he acted in his own self-interest, a charge never leveled against white migrants caught in a dilemma. Washing my hands of PA.

    I fear you've missed the point of the post, which does not actually mention his overstayer status or his alleged violence.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • linger,

    … and which argues for the residents of Kiribati as a community, and quite explicitly not for Mr. Teitiota as an individual.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Tinakori,

    It's also not a slam dunk that Kiribati is mortally threatened by climate change.


    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 118 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to Tinakori,

    Except that the mechanism that the study requires for atolls to be reshaped:

    when waves wash over them during storms or tsunami, depositing sand in the process

    is not consistent with continuous human habitation of low-lying islands, a fact the researcher somewhat coyly glosses over by suggesting

    life on those islands may be very different to today.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Rebecca Williams,

    _Washing my hands of PA_

    That was quick.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 120 posts Report

  • Sue,

    Half of Kiribati's 100,000 (ish) population live on the main island of Tarawa it's overpopulated with huge sanitation issues & working in health Suzy is doing the work of angels.

    Kiribati has an infant mortality rate of 45 to NZ's 5

    Kiribati has a TB rate of 497 to NZ's 7

    Plus an age expectancy of 60 compared to NZs 80

    Kiribati receives international development assistance yearly. The top 3 donors being - Australia (about $14-$16), Taiwan ( $10-11 mill), & NZ ($6-8 million). those figures are very loose. Each govt clearly has a stake in the game of keeping Kiribati going and the population staying put.

    given these stats I find it hard to believe everyone wants to stay, before you even have the climate change discussion. So i have to wonder if some misrepresentation may be going on somewhere.

    But let's go look at climate change and wether or not everyone wants to stay.

    In 2012 the Govt of Kiribati brought a whole pile of land in Fiji either for re settlement or to feed everyone who remained in Kiribati. In 2008 the Govt of Kiribati petitioned Australia & New Zealand to accept Kiribati citizens as climate change refugees. Were these stunts? I don't know.

    Earlier this year former President Anote Tong was very clear not everyone wants to stay, plans to stay or thinks staying is a possibility

    So i wonder

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 527 posts Report

  • william blake, in reply to Tinakori,

    Slam dunk. Is that a climate change joke?

    Since Mar 2010 • 380 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to Sue,

    At best, there will come times, in the not-too-distant future, when Kiribati becomes at least temporarily uninhabitable, through storms or tsunami. So the government’s land purchases and legal options sound like prudent explorations of possible escape plans.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Tinakori, in reply to linger,

    There's a whole series of papers on the subject at http://www.env.auckland.ac.nz/people/p-kench

    In one sample of 27 islands they found that 23 had increased in size over the last 60 years, including all of the islands in the sample from Kiribati, which had increased by between 12 and 30%. This at time when sea levels have been rising, although the rate of atoll accretion has been higher. They will have problems when and if that is not the case, but not at the moment, which suggests any current case for climate change refugee status would not have an empirical foundation.

    "Slam dunk. Is that a climate change joke?"

    Based on the above, not yet.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 118 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to Tinakori,

    These are statistical processes, without memory. An island that has so far gained from the action of such processes may not continue to do so. You really don't want to be arguing, "hey, let's wait here for a tsunami to save us" ... because they tend not to do that very reliably.

    It's very much like Wellington relying on earthquakes to raise the land level and save it from rising sea levels. Statistically, in the long term, that is what's expected to happen. You still don't want to be there while it's happening. And if the next big quake happens to be on the Wellington fault itself (or one to the west of that), the local land level could just as easily fall.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Tinakori, in reply to linger,

    On the contrary these are statistical processes with memory. In this case the memory of the physical history of the islands for the last 60 years. And that memory - the 12-30% increase in observable land area in the sample islands - directly contradicts the hypothesis that Kiribati (and others) have now and in the past suffered from land loss arising from climate change. Land loss arising from climate change and sea level rising is a possible hypothesis about what will happen at some point in the future but it is not supported by evidence in these islands as as yet.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 118 posts Report

  • linger,

    The details of the cited articles (rather than just their headlines) tend to support my comments above.

    18 out of 29 islands have actually grown

    – i.e., more than a third in this (Tuvaluan) sample didn’t : hardly a reliable mechanism to stake your future on. Indeed, while team member Virginie Duvat is generally optimistic about the long-term survival of atolls, even she acknowledges that

    "Where shoreline changes are rapid, islanders have already had, in some cases, to move to more stable places,” says Duvat.

    And climate change could result in bigger, more frequent storms. These could be catastrophic in the short term even if they increase the area of atolls in the long term, says Tom Spencer from the University of Cambridge. […]

    And meanwhile, team member Roger McLean

    notes that the atoll-building sediment comes from productive coral reefs, which face a range of threats such as warming oceans and pollution.

    —Sarchet, P. (2015) Sea level’s toll on atolls isn’t that bad. New Scientist 6/6/2015.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Stephen Judd,

    The other thing to consider is salination and the ability to grow food crops. I heard a correspondent on the radio on the weekend, talking about how tree crops are dying as their roots get down into the brine :-/

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report

  • Tinakori, in reply to linger,

    "The details of the cited articles (rather than just their headlines) tend to support my comments above."

    Maybe if you're on the staff of the Lysenko Institute for Scientific Investigation........

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 118 posts Report

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Based on that news report I am considerably less sympathetic to his particular case

    And based on that news report, the owner of the Orchard (his boss) also said it was he who gave Teitiota the idea to be the first climate change refugee. Teitiota may well have been considering the plight of or future for his NZ born kids, rather than a disregard of residents feelings. I do find it a bit suck when an overstayer British friend of mine is having her paperwork tidied up to remedy her circumstances without any problem. She's welcome to stay now that she's overstayed. 3 people born here are being kicked out .

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report

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