“Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santanaya

Hey! I do believe that the climate is changing all the time, and has for centuries. My parents told me about the pronounced warming trend in the 1930s. And I’m old enough to remember those cold days in the 1970s when the predictions of a new ice age were dire. These were the messages on the magazine covers then:

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It’s a good thing I’m not trudging the politically correct campuses of today. I’d probably be marching to a different drummer; I’d be marching on behalf of the 1/3 of the world who still don’t have electricity, or the 783 million people do not have access to clean water, or the 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Think of what that could do for the impoverished! Rich nations of the world: put your money there, where it will make a difference now—not in 2100.

“The world is barely half a degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was about 35 years ago.”  Wall St. Journal, Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate, Nov. 27th, 2015.

Earlier this year in Paris, scientists gathered to discuss a phenomenon called the global-warming hiatus. “Between 1998 and 2012 humans pumped unprecedented quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but the average global temperature barely rose. Why?” asks The Economist. Special Report. Climate Change. November 28, 2015. Key points of climate science are settled, but questions and uncertainties remain.

“On a global scale,” the WSJ Guide continues, as scientists keep confirming, there has been no increase in frequency or intensity of storms, floods or droughts, while deaths attributed to such natural disasters have never been fewer, thanks to modern technology and infrastructure…Arctic sea ice has recently melted more in summer than it used to in the 1980s, but Antarctic sea ice has increased, and Antarctica is gaining land-based ice, according to a new study by NASA scientists published in the Journal of Glaciology. Sea level continues its centuries-long slow rise—about a foot a century—with no sign of recent acceleration…”

According to Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, “ The (emissions) cuts on the table  in Paris, then, will leave the global economy, in rough terms, $1 trillion short every year for the rest of the century—and that’s if politicians do everything right. If not, the real cost could double…At best, the emissions cuts pledged in Paris will prevent a total temperature rise by 2100 of only 0.306F…” Gambling the World Economy on Climate, WSJ, November 17, 2015.

Does this make sense? I say, spend the money on the third world now.

Villages built of coral. Traveling around the world by boat, I had the opportunity to mix with islanders where they live. They taught me a lot about how they “use” climate change initiatives to gain funding from the western world. During the U.N. Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, the Maldives government made an eye-catching plea for climate change action by holding the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting. Although I admire the cleverness of the Maldivians, here’s the real story: these islanders are indeed hurtingnot because of climate change but because of coral mining. Yes, they mined their own fringing coral reefs to use as construction material for cool, gorgeous courtyards and homes! “Our parents did not know that practice would damage the reefs forever,” an Uligan Island schoolteacher explained to me. “They thought the reefs would grow back, like trees.” Now at high tides, the ocean surges over the damaged reefs and fishermen must use expensive diesel to travel to more distant islands to find reef fish.

The formation of a coral atoll. During the 21st Conference on Climate Change happening now, new focus will be on rising seas flooding the Marshall Islands. It appears that the role of reefs in protecting islands and way islands sink during atoll formation is not well understood.

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“This animation from NOAA shows the dynamic process of how a coral atoll forms. Corals (represented in tan and purple) begin to settle and grow around an oceanic island forming a fringing reef… if conditions are favorable, the reef will continue to expand. As the reef expands, the interior island usually begins to subside and the fringing reef turns into a barrier reef. When the island completely subsides beneath the water leaving a ring of growing coral with an open lagoon in its center, it is called an atoll.” NOAA

Fringing reefs that surround an island are sometimes referred to as house reefs. These are the reefs that islanders depend on not only for food, but for protection. They protect coasts from strong currents and waves by slowing down the water before it gets to the shore. They are also called barrier reefs because they provide a barrier between the ocean and the shore. Fares are outlying low reefs that provide a second layer of protection for tropical islands.

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The Carteret Islands

First global warming refugees—or not? The Melanesian Carteret islanders have been touted as the first global warming refugees; they were forced to evacuate the entire island and most of them have been relocated to Papua New Guinea. But what is not reported is the back-story: (1) The Carteret islands consist of a base of coral that sits atop an extinct volcanic mount. In the usual geological course of events first proposed by Charles Darwin, such islands eventually subside due to weathering and erosion, as well as isostatic adjustments of the sea floor. An atoll will gradually sink; the sea doesn’t rise. And if the sea did rise due to global warming, it would have risen evenly throughout the entire Pacific Ocean. The entire Melanesian island chain would be seeing a rise of the same level—measured in millimeters or centimeters. (2) These islanders may not want to go back to Papua New Guinea, but that is where most of them came from. For they have already been refugees once. Political refugees, they escaped Bougainville to avoid the fighting there. (3) Along with their wives and children, the men loaded into their small boats packages of dynamite, to get an early start on their food reserves. As they dynamited their fringing reefs to kill the fish and provide quick meals, the underlying coral crumbled. A fissure was most likely formed in the reef, because eventually the one reef became two. The incoming tidal waves now breach the reefs, gradually eroding the shoreline, swamping the islander’s beloved banana and vegetable gardens. A man-made problem? You bet. But this is one problem not caused by global warming. It sad that islanders who are confronted by a very serious problem appear to have been exploited by the “cause” of global warming.

No easy solutions. I have talked with simple islanders as well as government officials, and I find that no solutions are easy. In the name of environmentalism, it does no good to simply gloss over the day-to-day problems most locals face—just to survive. By all means, help them out. Now. The good news is that concerned people around the world are finding—and acting upon—creative ways of protecting and saving our wonderful world for future generations.

For further information, refer to my series of essays called The Enlightened Enviromentalist at my sailing website.

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