The people of Kiribati are going to have to move. Slightly more than
100,000 people live in this country, a chain of 33 atolls in the South
Pacific, about as many as live in a small American city like Erie,
Pennsylvania, or Flint, Michigan. The islands lie low in the ocean, and
as climate change drives the sea level higher, fewer people are going to
have the option of living there. The country’s president, Anote Tong,
considered surrounding the islands with sea walls or building floating
platforms for his constituents to move to. But both those options are
expensive, and the country’s cabinet is now backing Tong’s new plan: buy land elsewhere.
Climate-forced migration isn’t supposed to be happening yet. We’ve
always thought the consequences of abusing the earth would hit our
children and our children children’s in 2050 and 2100, not in 2012.
That’s the easy way to think about climate change, and many Americans
do. This past fall,
the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication asked survey
participants, “How much do you think climate change will harm future
generations of people?” Forty percent responded, “A great deal.” How
much did they think climate change would have their own families?
Forty-eight percent of respondents thought “only a little” or “not at