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Elizabeth GroppeSeptember 10, 2012

James Martin, S.J., recently made the case on this blog that he should have been invited to speak at the Republican and Democratic conventions. (Among other things, he explained in Why I Should Speak at the Conventions, it would secure the party that invited him the Jesuit vote, not to mention that of his mother). Martin was not invited, nor were the people of the Carteret Islands who are seeking a new home.

You did not have the opportunity to meet the Carteret Islanders through the national political gatherings, but their story is coming soon to a Catholic school or parish near you. The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change has organized a nationwide screening of the Academy Award nominated film “Sun Come Up" that tells of their struggle. Climate change is impacting the islands that are their ancestral home. Stronger storm surges are already flooding the gardens where they grow food essential to their survival, and it is only a matter of time before these beautiful Islands near Papua New Guinea on which children skip through white sands are inundated by the warming and rising water of the Pacific Ocean.

Our warming climate raises sea level for two reasons: 1) as the temperature of the oceans rise, their volume increases. This is known as “thermal expansion.” 2) Rising global temperatures melt land ice and the melt waters flow into the ocean. According to NASA, global sea level rose 4-8 inches over the course of the last century and this rise is accelerating. Greenland is currently losing a billion tons of ice per year; its ice loss doubled between 1996 and 2005. Millions of people across the globe live in coastal areas that will be affected as ocean levels continue to rise. Sun Come Up “is one of the first stories of climate change refugees,” we are told in the film. “It will not be the last.”

What shall the people of the Carteret do? Where shall they go? What will happen to their culture that is rooted in their intimate knowledge of island ecology? How has the local Catholic Church supported the relocation efforts they themselves have initiated through Tulele Peisa, their non-governmental organization? During the first week of October as we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, hundreds of Catholic colleges and universities, high schools and youth groups, parishes and dioceses, and other Catholic organizations will introduce us to the people of the Carteret Islands and their search for a new home. To join in the nationwide screening of Sun Come Up, find a local event or register to sponsor one on the Catholic Climate Covenant Web site. You will receive the DVD and a packet of information to help you introduce the film, conduct discussion and take faith-based action. “Can we remain indifferent,” Pope Benedict XVI asked in his 2010 World Day of Peace Message, “before the problems associated with such realities as climate change . . . Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of environmental refugees?”

The environmental refugees of the Carteret Islands would have been appropriate speakers at our national political conventions for several reasons: 1) the United States is responsible for more heat-trapping carbon emissions than any other nation. It is true that China has surpassed the U.S. as the single largest source of annual emissions, but historically speaking our cumulative emissions are still the highest of any nation. Our actions to address climate change must be commensurate with our share of responsibility in spawning the global crisis. 2) Our own nation is suffering from extreme weather of the character that scientists associate with climate change; the challenges faced by the people of the Carteret Islands are also are own. 3) Finally, as a Catholic parishioner in Papua New Guinea states in the film of the displaced Islanders, “We have to accept these people. They are our brothers and sisters.”

Elizabeth Groppe


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JR Cosgrove
10 years 6 months ago
Ms. Groppe,

If you have not seen the movie, Cool It, I suggest you do.  It is available on Netflix or use your department budget to buy it.  It is not expensive.  In it there is a discussion of just how we should be spending our money on both the poor and and controlling the climate.  Whether the discussed ways are the best ways to spend the money, is one we should debate.  Maybe your students should debate it after seeing the movie. I have not seen anyone who knows how to proceed on controlling the climate.  One reason there is no intelligent discussion is that it has become so political which essentially paralyzes the debate.  So anyone who offering political solutions and making it part of the political debate is actually frustrating a solution.

Apparently controlling carbon emission is a nice idea but how feasible is it in the short run and what effect will it have.  I doubt no one really has any good ideas.  What is the old adage. Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.  Maybe because they can't.
David Smith
10 years 6 months ago
More capitalist-focused guilt tripping.  Poor capitalists.  Lucky Carteret Islanders.

As for choosing our charities to fit in with our politics, though - isn't that just a bit unfair and lopsided?  What of all the other needy victims whose plight can't be blamed directly on the post-colonial exploiters?  Are they to die and disappear unaided and unmourned? No special guilt-and-blame-born Sunday collections for them?  Alas.
Stanley Kopacz
10 years 6 months ago
''Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.  Maybe because they can't."

The documentary you recommended seems to say the opposite. It also accepts humans are causing the warming phenomena. We've already done something about the weather which is making it worse.  I consider geoengineering to be a very risky and unwise approach.  It is analogous to someone smoking and figuring the doctors can fix it later.  I don't think even the most addicted smokers believe that, but belief that these techniques will fix the earth after we mess it up is analogous.  It is better to quickly find ways to obviate fossil fuel burning than to continue and try to mitigate it later.  The problem is, the economy rests on the environment.  We are presently cutting off the limb on which we are sitting.

One thing Lomborg seems to ignore is the ever rising population which is also nonlinear.  I think the catastrophic scenario is more likely.  The problem is, the exact time of the catastrophe is difficult to predict and we won't see it coming until it's upon us.  I remain optimistic in that I believe that the problem can be solved.  I remain pessimistic as to the ability of people to respond collectively, which is what is needed.  There us so much obfuscation from the right.  When I hear the term "hoax",  where does one start?  Joseph Fourier, I suppose.  But many times more know who Rush Windbag is.

I think this is a test.  A people that can be concerned about future generations unseen, if that's what we prove to be, is one that can sustain an effort requiring thousands of years of commitment to spread life to other planets.  We'll see.  Short term versus long term.

JR Cosgrove
10 years 6 months ago
Some facts about the Carteret Islands.  The visula above distorts this set of islands which in total about 4/10 of a square mile and at its highest point is 5 ft.  From Wikipedia:

The Carteret Islands are Papua New Guinea islands located 86 km (53 mi) north-east of Bougainville in the South Pacific. The atoll has a scattering of low-lying islands called Han, Jangain, Yesila, Yolasa and Piul, in a horseshoe shape stretching 30 km (19 mi) in north-south direction, with a total land area of 0.6 square kilometers and a maximum elevation of 1.5 m (5 ft) above sea level.

It was widely reported in November 2005 that the islands have progressively become uninhabitable, with an estimate of their total submersion by 2015. The islanders have fought a more than twenty years battle, building a seawall and planting mangroves. However, storm surges and high tides continue to wash away homes, destroy vegetable gardens and contaminate fresh water supplies. The natural tree cover on the island is also being impacted by the incursion of saltwater contamination of the fresh water table.

Paul Tobasi, the atolls' district manager with Papua New Guinea's Bougainville province, and many other environmental groups have suggested that the flooding is the result of sea-level rise associated with global warming. He also stated that small tidal waves were becoming more frequent.  Those convinced the islands are sinking, not the sea-level rising, also propose that, ''Some depletion of the fresh water aquifer may also contribute to the sinking,'' but do not explain how depletion of the fresh water aquifer could be significant on an island that is no more than 1.5 m higher than sea-level. Also cited by Dr. Ray, ''The region is also tectonically active and subsiding land is a real possibility.'' However, The Carteret Islands lie on the Pacific Plate, lying east of and above where the Solomon Sea plate is subducting underneath it. This means that if the Carteret Islands' tectonic plate is moving (tilting) vertically relative to sea-level where the islands are located, the plate would tend to tilt up, not down—assuming that movement has no measurable effect on sea-level, itself. This is a technical consideration related to how a very large earthquake (a movement or tilting of a tectonic plate) can cause enough change in the distribution of mass that the rotation of the Earth—and thus the center-of-mass of the Earth—and thus sea-level—can measurably change relative to some (but not all) land (see 2004 Indian Ocean earth quake). From the JASON satellite in orbit around the Earth, however, the real effects of even this small change, such as a change in the oblateness of the ocean surface across the curvature of the Earth, can still be clearly sorted out since that is exactly what the JASON satellite is doing when it maps variations in sea-level caused by gravitational field variations.

On 25 November 2003, the Papua New Guinean government authorized the government-funded total evacuation of the islands, 10 families at a time; the evacuation was expected to be completed by 2007, but access to funding caused numerous delays.In October 2007 it was announced that the Papua New Guinea government would provide two million kina (USD $736,000) to begin the relocation, to be organized by Tulele Peisa of Buka, Bougainville. Five men from the island moved to Bougainville in early 2009 who built some houses and planted crops for their familiis to follow. It is planned to bring another 1700 people over the next five years. However, there has been no large-scale evacuation seem set into effect as of November 2011.CNN has reported that the Carteret islanders will be the first island community in the world to undergo an organized relocation, in response to rising sea levels. The people of the Carteret are being called the world's first environmental refugees.

Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 6 months ago
No, global warming is all a lie.  We can have it all.  It is our right as god-fearing Christians to destroy envronments and trample on the rights of indigenous people so we can make money and support our way of life, because we are right and they are worthless.  The soldiers that support my right to drive a Hummer and shop at the latest mall are heroes sacrificing for the American way of life, and we will beat the s**t out of anyone who disagrees because we are the greatest country on earth.

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