Rising sea levels imperil island

For Ben Namakin, global warming isn’t some abstract threat his kids might someday face.

It has already started tearing his country apart.

Namakin, 26, was born and raised in Kiribati, an island nation in the midst of the Pacific where high tide crests no more than a dozen feet from the islands highest point.

Or did.

That distance has shrunk as oceans warm and expand and polar ice melts. Sea walls are crumbling. Freshwater lagoons are dying as salt water intrudes.

One of his favorite islands – small, beautiful Deketik – is now two islands, with the ocean where sand once was.

We have nowhere to go, said Namakin, an environmental educator for the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, capital of the Federated States of Micronesia.

The irony, to Namakin, is that his country contributes less than a percent of the globes manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Yet it will be the first to disappear.

So Namakin has taken his message to the U.S., where nearly a quarter of the worlds greenhouse gases are emitted, chiefly from power plants and automobiles.

He has spent four weeks touring the country, talking on college campuses, waking people to the notion that their lifestyle and energy use causes ripples far, far away – 5,355 miles, to be exact.

He talks this evening at the University of California, Berkeleys Free Speech Movement Cafe.

The 110,000 people in Micronesia are not the only ones feeling the heat. In December 2005, the Inuit of northern Alaska and Canada filed a human rights claim against the United States, claiming the countrys energy policies are violating their most basic rights.

Hardships being forced upon the Inuit by global warming are similar to those visited upon Micronesia: Increased erosion from storm surges, the disappearance of subsistence foods and an altered way of life.

Nations that are responsible for those impacts – particularly those nations that are not taking steps to address their impact – must take responsibility, said the Inuits lawyer, Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner of Oakland.

These are extremely important obligations these nations are failing to satisfy, he said.

In the past century, the worlds oceans have risen about six inches. Climate models suggest the rise will continue another six inches, perhaps, in the next 25 years, and another foot beyond that by 2070.

A 2002 study suggested a three-foot rise in sea levels would render 2.3 million people homeless in southeast Asia.

“Even now we are changing the lives of people”, Namakin said during an interview Wednesday in Oakland (elevation: 42 feet).

“I kindly ask the United States to come up with any option for us. We dont want to leave our islands just because of global warming”.