Sunday, October 11, 2009
The world's first climate refugees, The Age, July 29, 2009
South Pacific coral atolls are by-products of volcanism. First a volcanic island emerges from the ocean floor. Then, corals grow all around the island to form coral reefs. Finally, the volcanic island begins to sink by subduction and goes completely under water, leaving only a ring of coral islands visible above water. Such a ring of coral islands is called a coral atoll. It's existence implies that somewhere in the middle of the atoll is a sinking volcanic island because the atoll could not have formed otherwise. The atoll itself remains above water as long as the rate of sinking does not exceed the rate of coral growth and begins to go under water otherwise. The Carteret Islands in the South Pacific are coral atolls. That some of these atolls are sinking and becoming inundated by seawater is a tragic but natural event having to do with geological forces beyond our control. These events are not caused by carbon dioxide and they cannot be modulated in any way by cutting CO2 emissions. In fact, these are not climate events. People who abandon sinking coral atolls for higher ground are therefore not "climate refugees" and their plight has nothing whatsoever to do with our consumption of fossil fuels. The continued attempt to link carbon dioxide with sinking atolls is inconsistent with what we know about coral atolls and with the observation that all atolls are not affected. Rising sea level does not inundate selectively.