by Adam Robbert
A good friend of mine is studying island ecology, whilst discussing some of his research on climate change and social adaptation strategies, the island nation of Nauru came up – a truly dire situation and indicative of where we, as a planet, are headed. It seems that we are no longer talking about avoiding the devastating changes that are coming down the road, but rather adapting to them. You can read an article on the predicament in the NY Times HERE, from which I quote the following passage:
I FORGIVE you if you have never heard of my country.
At just 8 square miles, about a third of the size of Manhattan, and located in the southern Pacific Ocean, Nauru appears as merely a pinpoint on most maps — if it is not missing entirely in a vast expanse of blue.
But make no mistake; we are a sovereign nation, with our own language, customs and history dating back 3,000 years. Nauru is worth a quick Internet search, I assure you, for not only will you discover a fascinating country that is often overlooked, you will find an indispensible cautionary tale about life in a place with hard ecological limits.
Phosphate mining, first by foreign companies and later our own, cleared the lush tropical rainforest that once covered our island’s interior, scarring the land and leaving only a thin strip of coastline for us to live on. The legacy of exploitation left us with few economic alternatives and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and led previous governments to make unwise investments that ultimately squandered our country’s savings.
I am not looking for sympathy, but rather warning you what can happen when a country runs out of options. The world is headed down a similar path with the relentless burning of coal and oil, which is altering the planet’s climate, melting ice caps, making oceans more acidic and edging us ever closer to a day when no one will be able to take clean water, fertile soil or abundant food for granted.
Climate change also threatens the very existence of many countries in the Pacific, where the sea level is projected to rise three feet or more by the end of the century. Already, Nauru’s coast, the only habitable area, is steadily eroding, and communities in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have been forced to flee their homes to escape record tides. The low-lying nations of Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands may vanish entirely within our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
So, on the one hand, we need to continue to implement the necessary structural, economic, political, and technological changes that will help our species to curb further climate disruption. On the other hand, we also need to begin thinking about how we are going to adapt to the changes, such as the one on Nauru, that are already underway. This includes the political and immigration challenges that will become increasingly difficult to navigate, particularly as more people are forced off their lands due to ecological and climatic changes, but it also includes coming to grips with the necessary psychological challenges that many people will be facing, whether they want to or not.
Solastalgia is a term coined by Glenn Albrecht to describe “a new concept developed to give greater meaning and clarity to environmentally induced distress. As opposed to nostalgia – the melancholia or homesickness experienced by individuals when separated from a loved home – solastalgia is the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment.” It is a condition that I suspect we are going to see a lot more of, both in places such as Nauru, and in other locations (such as the high altitude Himalaya mountains, where climate change is having a huge impact on the surrounding ice sheets, which play a crucial role not only in hydrological cycles and local agriculture, but also in cultural and spiritual value systems of local peoples).
What we need at this point, I think, is not just a policy of aversion, but also, a policy of adaptation that will allocate resources to the implementation of transition programs for peoples who are disproportionately effected by a global phenomenon. As usual, the burdens and benefits are not equally distributed, and, people such as those on Nauru Island, do not contribute to climate change in anywhere near the same proportion to which they suffer from its effects.