So Many People … So Little Rain

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Well, I started a post on Kiribati, but when it was half written I found Andi Cockroft had beaten me to it with his post. His analysis was fine, but I had a different take on the events. President Tong of Kiribati says the good folk of the atolls are again looking for some place to move their people if they have to. However, this time, it’s different. This time, they’re not blaming it on sea level rise. This time, they’re not talking about suing the industrialized nations. And this time, they’re making their own plans, they’re not waiting for the world to act. The headline in USA Today says:

Pacific nation may move entire population to Fiji 

Figure 1. The island nation of Kiribati, which is comprised of the Gilbert and Phoenix groups and the Line Islands. I call it the world’s biggest tiny country. The Kiribati EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) is the eighth largest in the world … and it is 99.99% ocean.

Let me comment that if I had a chance to pull up stakes in Kiribati and move to Fiji, I’d do it in a second. Fiji is high volcanic islands, with rich soil and lots of it. And Kiribati, on the other hand, is tiny coral atolls with … well … nothing. Life on the atolls is tough, tough, tough. The highest point on any of the atolls of Kiribati is about 3 metres (10 feet) above sea level, and there is no real soil, only lime coral sand. It is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of humans that anyone lives on the atolls at all. The people from Kiribati are great folks, consummate seamen, and very interesting people in general. The ones I’ve known have been great folks. Don’t cross the women, though, bad mistake, the women will clean your clock if you cross them, that’s one of the reasons I like them so much.

But the fact that life is tough in Kiribati is not the reason that they’re talking about moving. And indeed, although the report mentions climate change, the President of Kiribati actually didn’t blame rising sea levels. The article goes on to say:

Fearing that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago, the leaders of Kiribati are considering an unusual backup plan: moving the populace to Fiji.

Kiribati President Anote Tong told The Associated Press on Friday that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. He said the fertile land, being sold by a church group for about $9.6 million, could be insurance for Kiribati’s entire population of 103,000, though he hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave.

“We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” Tong said. “It wouldn’t be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won’t be a matter of choice. It’s basically going to be a matter of survival.”

Kiribati, which straddles the equator near the international date line, has found itself at the leading edge of the debate on climate change because many of its atolls rise just a few feet above sea level.

Tong said some villages have already moved and there have been increasing instances of sea water contaminating the island’s underground fresh water, which remains vital for trees and crops. He said changing rainfall, tidal and storm patterns pose as least as much threat as ocean levels, which so far have risen only slightly.

Now, before getting into the story, a few facts. First. name of the nation is pronounced “Kih-rih-bas”, with the accent on the first syllable. Why the strange spelling? Turns out that’s how you spell “Gilberts”, the old name of the islands, in the local language. There’s no “s” in the language, so they use “ti” for the “s” sound, based on how “ti” is pronounced in “motion”. Also, as in many Pacific missionary-derived orthographies of the local language, there are no diphthongs consonant pairs in the Kiribati language. So the “lb” in “Gilberts” becomes “rib” because … you guessed it, no “l” in the language, so they use “r” instead. So in Figure 1, you see that “Christmas” in the local language is spelled “Kiritimati”. Also, the people are called “i-Kiribati”, with the “i” pronounce like “ee”.

Returning to the idea of the i-Kiribati moving to Fiji, curiously, that would not be the first historical intersection between the people of Kiribati and the people of Fiji. In the early days of WWII, it became obvious that the Japanese would invade one of the Gilbert Islands called “Ocean Island” or Banabas. The Gilberts were British at the time, as was Fiji, so the Brits decided to act.

Basically, the British took all of the inhabitants of Banabas Island, and moved them lock, stock, and fishing lines to the island of Rabi in Fiji. Rabi is a beautiful island, and it is ruled domestically not by the Fijians, but by the Rabi Island Council. It’s like a little bit of Kiribati in Fiji, almost everyone on the island is i-Kiribati. So this would not be the first group of i-Kirbati to resettle in Fiji.

Nor would it be the first move by i-Kiribati away from the Gilberts group. The Phoenix group of islands were settled in the late 1930s by people from the Gilberts group. This occurred as a direct result of what would become a recurring problem—when atoll populations intersect with modern medicine, overpopulation is not far off.

As a result, the obliging British, who likely felt some responsibility, gave the Phoenix group to be settled by the i-Kiribati. They settled the islands between 1938 and 1940. But the water was bad and scarce. Communications were hard, as was transportation, and the war made it worse. In 1952, after a series of dry years, the experiment was declared a failure.

However, of course, by then there was no room for the Phoenix folks back in the Gilberts. Besides, by then there were newly overcrowded islands in the Gilberts too, people keep having kids. So … the Brits were looking for people to work on the plantations in the Solomon islands. In the early 1950s, they gave Wagina Island and land on Gizo Island in the Solomons to anyone willing to sign up for the Solomon Islands Settlement Scheme. Many of the folks who emigrated were from the Phoenix Islands, where poor water sources and a drought had combined to make the islands uninhabitable. Compared to that, the Solomons were a paradise. Except for the malaria, of course.

Drought has long been the bane of Kiribati. When your only water comes from a small lens of fresh water renewed only by rain, it is a matter of life and death. There is a fascinating report by some National Academy of Science folks, published in 1957, of their researches in Kiribati in the early ’50s. It was very clear, even back then, that droughts were a huge issue. Among many other interesting things they say are:

As for the rainfall, the attached graphs will show how it varies between the groups in the North, Central and South Islands (Fig. 4). One of the most important ecological factors in the Gilbert Islands is drought. These islands are periodically affected by it. There was a two-year drought in 1917-1919, a three-year drought in 1937-1939, and another which lasted a year and a half in 1949-1951. These periods of drought particularly affect the south islands. Comparative statistics in Figure 4 show the’ monthly rainfall of one island of each group over a period of 4 years, comparing periods or normal rainfall with periods of drought which occurred from August, 1949 to December, 1950.

And here is their Figure 4:

Figure 2. Monthly rainfall on three different atolls of Kiribati. Click image for a larger version.

Tarawa, the middle row, is the capital of Kiribati. Like the other islands, it depended entirely on rainfall for drinking water. Look at what happened in 1950 to the rainfall in Tarawa … yes, that would definitely cause problems. You can see why the British were wanting to move people in the early 1950s, they’d been dying of thirst on some of the atolls. Plus the population on the atolls was already very high. The NAS report says:

It would seem that the Gilbert Islands, where the soil is so poor, and which suffer from recurrent severe droughts, should have a small population. We observe, on the contrary, a very high demographic density. The population of the sixteen islands of the Group amounted at the time of the 1947 census to 27,824, or an average density of 243.9 per square mile. This figure is just given as an average and does not claim to have any great demonstrative value as, in fact, the density varies considerably as between one island and another. Thus Tamana has 441.5 per square mile while Aranuka has only 61.3.

But of course, moving folks from the Gilberts to the Solomon Islands didn’t solve the population problem either. To understand why it made no difference, here’s a historical look at the population of Kiribati

Figure 3. Kiribati population change over time. I picked the photo because for me it exemplified the irrepressible spirit of the i-Kiribati people. Population information is from the FAO and the NAS report cited above. 

Remember that in 1947, people were already commenting on the high population density … and now the density is three times as great. So you can understand why the President is looking for more land. Here’s another bit of information. The article says that they want to buy a 6,000 acre parcel in Fiji. In Texas, that would only be a small ranch.

But that land in Fiji is nearly 10% of the total area of Kiribati, and nearly 15% of the inhabited area of Kiribati. So I understand why they want to buy it.

You can see the danger. The population is skyrocketing. And unlike just about every country on the planet, there is absolutely no sign of any slowdown in the Kiribati population growth rate.

But the rain … the rain is unchanged. It’s still years of wet and then years of dry, just like always … but when you have three times the people, the dry years become unsustainable. President Tong correctly notes “increasing instances of sea water contaminating the island’s underground fresh water”. He does not note the obvious reason that the well water is becoming brackish—there are three times the people drinking from each and every well, while the rainwater recharging the wells hasn’t changed.

As a result, I fear there is no obvious solution. Buying land in Fiji in 2012, while it is a good stopgap measure, will do no more to solve the underlying problem than did exporting people to the Solomon Islands in 1954. There is only one solution to their problem, and it has nothing to do with CO2, or the climate, or the industrialized nations, or the sea level. The people of Kiribati have to, must, reduce their birth rate.

I understand that there are issues of religion and social pressure and the like, but look at the blue line in Figure 2. Kiribati is already busting at the seams with people, and the rate of population growth is not decreasing … they will be lucky to come out of this without huge social, economic, and political problems. So I wish President Tong the best of luck in his efforts to reduce some of those problems.

And if anyone can pull it off, it would be the i-Kiribati. Let me close by quoting the 1950s NAS report again:

Another aspect of their nature is their total confidence in others, both in moral and material dealings. We also appreciated their independent spirit and their frankness, which is often disarming. Their answers, whether positive or negative, are always direct. But the Gilbertese’ forthrightness does not preclude a form of respect devoid of obsequiousness. His often unexpected reactions are never arrogant, and are a corollary of his independent, individualistic nature, as are his teasing spirit and fanciful mind. Both are expressed in choreographic attitudes, in which mimicry always has a deserved success.

Finally, these people have a highly-developed artistic sense, and it would be difficult to find anything to equal some of their extraordinarily beautiful choral singing, It is really in their dances and choral singing only that the Gilbertese express the whole genius of their race, and can give rein to an exuberance which, because of a surprising modesty, is no longer manifested in the ordinary course of their everyday life.

The Gilbertese are an intelligent people. Many show real pride in having risen above the general level, but it did not seem to us that this was ever expressed in a contemptuous or even haughty way. Those working with Europeans are generally avid to learn and to understand everything and are full of gratitude for whoever may have increased their knowledge, even about their own territory.

Yeah, that’s the i-Kiribati I know. Interesting, good-natured, hardworking folks. I wish them only the best.

w.

PS—Population density in Kiribati is currently about 750 people per square mile. If they were all moved to the land in Fiji as the headline claims, the population density there would be about 11,000 per square mile … by comparison, Bangladesh has a density of about 2,500 per square mile. So whether they buy the land or not, they won’t be able to move everyone there.

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Tom
March 10, 2012 5:45 am

I don’t know much about Kiribati. But if I was looking for somewhere where solar desalination could supply a large chunk of the water requirement, it’s probably pretty close to what I’d choose. Isn’t it?

March 10, 2012 6:21 am

Tom, you are correct. If solar has half a chance of being effective, it is in equatorial regions of the planet, where the sun is directly overhead, or nearly so, for at least half of the year. This is at least a rational solution for Kiribati’s drinking water. With land at a premium one would hope that not to much area would be paved with such an installation…

March 10, 2012 6:26 am

“The highest point on any of the atolls of Kiribati is about 3 metres (10 feet) above sea level,”
So just 1 non AGW related tsunami and it’s gone anyway?

Janice
March 10, 2012 6:29 am

Tom, that was my first thought also. Simple solar desalinization would not be expensive, the equipment would last a long time, and it would work any time the sun is shining. Could even set it up as a double distillation to get really excellent water.

DavidCobb
March 10, 2012 6:50 am

Wave pumped reverse-osmosis with electrical generation from the outflow. There, problem solved. I spent six months on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands in 1987 when the lenses were contaminated by Tropical storm Roy. It will always be better to rely on technology than the whims of mother nature.

Gibby
March 10, 2012 6:56 am

Everyone commenting here, so far, seems to be touching on what the underlying issue is; technology allowing us to inhabit areas that once used to be unacceptable areas of habitation, particularly for large populations, without acknowledging the risks that come along with it.

Hector M.
March 10, 2012 7:27 am

Desalination, indeed, would supply the needed water, but it cost a lot. Not remotely sustainable in a place like Kiribati with its current level of development. Economic development means income growth (and education to provide the needed skills). Increased income would make desalination affordable. Income plus education would also cause fertility to decline, as it did (and is doing) nearly everywhere.
Population growth seems impressive in the chart, but it is not that fast: in 2000-2010 it has been around 1.5% per year approximately. According to the UN latest population data (http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/unpp/p2k0data.asp) Kiribati pop grew at a yearly 1.68% in 2005-10 and is estimated to be growing at 1.36% in 2010-15, down from a maximum of 2.9% in the 1960s. In the UN “Medium Variant” of pop projections, the rate would shrink below 1% in a couple of decades, to become zero by the 2070s and start decreasing thenceforth; UN pop projections, on the other hand, customarily overstate population growth, so the decline is likely to be faster.
Population growth is the net result of births, deaths and net migration.
Emigration would also help, as it surely does nowadays. The UN Population Division does not provide migration rates for Kiribati and other very small countries, but emigration in the region is rampant. The UN estimated migration rates for most countries are at http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Excel-Data/migration.htm. As of 2005-10, the net migration rate in Fiji is -0.7% per year, in the Fed. States of Micronesia -1.6%, with -1.7% in Samoa and -1.6% in Tonga. Emigration around -1% are a huge attenuating factor, reducing population growth by a third or a half. .

George
March 10, 2012 7:32 am

The Easter Island society experienced an implosion due to overpopulation, resulting in destruction of the island’s culture and resources, eventually in mass murder and cannibalism. Overpopulation is an existential threat to any small-island culture, and is inadvertently amplified by improvements like modern medicine.
On the other hand, Japan has a population implosion clocked to occur over the next generation. Seems like a “two birds with one stone” proposition?

wsbriggs
March 10, 2012 7:33 am

Gibby says:
March 10, 2012 at 6:56 am
Ignoring that the availability of medicine is what is causing the population to soar, consider what the lack of technology does – they die. Risk, you talk about risk?
The problem I see is that once again, well meaning people have seagulled into a space, “helped” the people and left them to their devices without a thought of teaching them even the basic skills of technological survival. The same is done in Haiti, and Africa. Plenty of religious teaching of all flavors though…
Clearly they aren’t going to find iron ore on the island, silicates and carbonates are pretty much it unless they can mine the ocean for minerals by pumping water. I’ll bet that with the culture they have, they’d be killer at innovation given the chance. Probably wind up with 100% literacy rate as well.

Pat Moffitt
March 10, 2012 7:38 am

Anyone know what the current groundwater usage rate is? Is there a significant agriculture water demand?
Would seem if most of the demand is potable/sanitary you would be able to use tankers to bring water during “drought” periods. Both solar-desal and tanking require a means of distribution– are the main population areas served by a centralized water systems?

March 10, 2012 7:40 am

“In early 2012, Kiribati president Anote Tong announced he is desperately working with the city of Fiji to evacuate the islands due to rising sea levels that seem to be the result of climate change.” Wikipedia
Wonder how the i-Kiribati will adapt to city life? 😉

Richard S Courtney
March 10, 2012 7:47 am

Willis:
This is a superb article. Interesting and informative. I learned from it.
Thankyou.
The crux of the problem as you state it is:
“But the rain … the rain is unchanged. It’s still years of wet and then years of dry, just like always … but when you have three times the people, the dry years become unsustainable. President Tong correctly notes “increasing instances of sea water contaminating the island’s underground fresh water”. He does not note the obvious reason that the well water is becoming brackish—there are three times the people drinking from each and every well, while the rainwater recharging the wells hasn’t changed.”
OK. Then, if so, this is a classic climatological problem. Indeed, it is directly analogous to the problem solved by Joseph (with the Technicolour Dreamcoat) in the Biblical story. In that story Joseph solved the problem by use of planning, technology (i.e. grainstores and additional farms to operate “in good times”) and infrastructure to operate the technology.
As others have pointed out in this thread, the same solution is possible in this case. Planning, technology (i.e. solar and/or wave powered desalination plants) and infrastructure to operate the technology.
The solution requires funding. So, I wonder if anybody can suggest how to direct some of the $billions wasted each year on ‘climate science’ towards the needed solution for Kiribati?
Richard

Alex
March 10, 2012 7:57 am

I guess, with solar or other seawater desalination technologies, the real issue is what is a sustainable economic basis for i-Kiribati that can generate enough $$ to support the desalination cost, food production/import cost, etc. of living on small, remote islands in the middle of the Pacific.

Dr. John M. Ware
March 10, 2012 7:59 am

I wonder if there is a large-scale technological way to collect and store more of whatever rain actually does fall.

Pat Moffitt
March 10, 2012 8:04 am

2008 Kirabati National Water Resources Plan says the “often scarce” water supply is pressured by population growth, urbanization, sewage contamination and drought cycles (climate variability). Population growth, development demands and the need to alleviate poverty according to the Plan require “leadership by the national government to protect and use wisely the nation’s scarce water resources.” With the current focus on sea level –entirely absent from the Water Plan- it seems the government has decided to ignore the call to act “wisely.”

Betapug
March 10, 2012 8:06 am

Given that Fiji is now ruled by a de-facto military dictator, suffereing 4 coups since 1986, I wonder if the i-Kiribati would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire? (Sorry I couldn’t think of a better metaphor) http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jZjIV1mI7AwN-2JQebJKxTA8pdKA?docId=CNG.f0067d6b6c5fc41cfa26baa08eca6055.5e1
The ethnic stresses which developed between the laid back native Fijians and the more energetic Indian immigrants, originally recruited as sugar cane workers around the end of the 19th century, have led to the departure of a third of the Indian population and legal discrimination against those remaining. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fijian_Indian_diaspora
Fijians do not seem to tolerate large populations of non-Fijians well. Does anyone have their opinion of this scheme?

Latitude
March 10, 2012 8:09 am

Willis, I think I posted the sea level charts for Kiribati on the original thread Anthony posted….can’t find it right now, internets’ wonky….
Showed sea levels have been falling, not rising, in Kiribati for a while…..IIRC…something like .11 mm year (don’t quote me on that, old brain)

Richard S Courtney
March 10, 2012 8:12 am

Gibby:
At March 10, 2012 at 6:56 am you assert:
“Everyone commenting here, so far, seems to be touching on what the underlying issue is; technology allowing us to inhabit areas that once used to be unacceptable areas of habitation, particularly for large populations, without acknowledging the risks that come along with it.”
No!
The underlying issue is a requirement to decide the needed technological development.
Human existence requires technology. Adoption of a cave for shelter is technology. Use of fire to cook food (and thus reduce disease) is a technology. Clothing to protect from the weather is a technology. Etc.
And each adopted technology enables population to expand until an additional technology is needed to avoid mass starvation, disease and death with additional population growth. The Kiribati situation is a specific example of this in a small isolated community, but it is true of all human populations at all times.
A serious problem at present is that ‘greens’ want us to reverse technological advances (e.g. to return to wind and muscle power instead of fossil fuels). Such a reversal would induce mass starvation, disease and death because technologies have advanced to remove/reduce those effects.
The most dangerous of the ‘greens’ call for control and/or reduction of human population. But population growth is required for economic growth which enables needed technological development. Wealth reduces population growth and rich countries now have to import people so they can sustain their economic activity. And at present poor countries – including Kiribati – plan on the basis that they can and do export some of their growing population. But rich countries are likely to have difficulty obtaining import of people near the middle of this century when poor countries gain sufficient wealth to stop expanding their populations.
So, the underlying problem is the need to sustain global population growth without localised difficulties that are not soluble by technology.
Richard

March 10, 2012 8:22 am

Splendid article – very very informative. The Kiribati have a tough road ahead.

DirkH
March 10, 2012 8:25 am

Gibby says:
March 10, 2012 at 6:56 am
“Everyone commenting here, so far, seems to be touching on what the underlying issue is; technology allowing us to inhabit areas that once used to be unacceptable areas of habitation, particularly for large populations, without acknowledging the risks that come along with it.”
Kiribati was inhabited before modern technology came along. People were dying like flies everywhere on the planet before modern technologies were invented so I don’t know what “risks that come along with it” you are talking about. If anything, technology reduces risks. For instance the risk involved with travelling across the open ocean to some place safer.

Jason
March 10, 2012 8:47 am

Wow. How refreshing that a south seas President isn’t crying into the cameras with his hand out, while blaming the west for what amounts to their own over drawn freshwater lens.

pat
March 10, 2012 9:17 am

I have been to one of the islands, Beautiful. About the same size as Bermuda, without the hurricanes (it is smack on the equator) or even violent winds. Rainfall is more, but there is no catchment system as is evident everywhere in Bermuda, including the three very large state systems. Nor are they foreseeable. The population is poor,uneducated, and lacks business. The exact opposite of Bermuda, which controls its population, vehicles,land use, housing, and crime in a fashion that would embarrass China. A necessity of survival on such a small island.

Don E
March 10, 2012 9:18 am

This is off topic but the Sonoma West March 8 edition had a front page story “Hundreds turn out for Ranger Rick memorial.” They are taking up a collection for statue of him. Should it be a traditional bronze or a whimsical Patrick Amiot statue? I vote for Patrick.
I worked the Pacific Territories a few time in my career. I recall that 30 years ago on the Marshall’s the average age was around 8 years old. There was a sea of naked knee high children everywhere I went.

JG
March 10, 2012 9:40 am

George says (March 10, 2012 at 7:32 am) writes: “The Easter Island society experienced an implosion due to overpopulation … Overpopulation is an existential threat to any small-island culture and is inadvertently amplified by improvements …”
Good point. How about taking a step back, about 20,000,000 miles say, and look at the small-planet culture … the one you’re on.

Hoser
March 10, 2012 9:43 am

They become US terrirtory. We provide nuclear energy, technology to mine sea floor, build floating cities. Problem solved. Not exactly simple, but could be done. At some point we do need to learn to live on the other 70% of the Earth.
One other big benefit: Contain China, or they may do what I just described and claim big chunks of the western Pacific as their exclusive economic zone. Consider what China has done with the Spratly so-called islands to support claims for control over petroleum resources. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spratly_Islands

March 10, 2012 10:09 am

bladeshearer says:
March 10, 2012 at 7:40 am
“Wonder how the i-Kiribati will adapt to city life?”
There is nothin else but city life on their capital Island of Male. No place to farm, no place to store enough water. They are completely on the dole, supported mainly by Australia.

kcom
March 10, 2012 10:17 am

In early 2012, Kiribati president Anote Tong announced he is desperately working with the city of Fiji to evacuate the islands due to rising sea levels that seem to be the result of climate change.
Is there anything in that sentence that isn’t completely wrong? I guess the date and the president’s name, but other than that…

ferd berple
March 10, 2012 10:28 am

Betapug says:
March 10, 2012 at 8:06 am
Fijians do not seem to tolerate large populations of non-Fijians well. Does anyone have their opinion of this scheme?
We lived in Fiji for awhile. One of our children was born there, just after a coup, and all the embassies were closed. Thus we could not get the necessary travel documents to allow us to leave with our new-born. So instead we applied for a Fijian passport for her.
On the application, there is a section where you tick a box for “race”. There were literally dozens of “races” listed. The clerk suggested that “European” was the correct race for the child, but since neither parent was from Europe we made up our own race on the line marked “other” and ended up with passport number 320000001.

ferd berple
March 10, 2012 10:37 am

In our case, the Fijians cooperated and gave us a passport so we could leave. Another boat we were cruising with was not so fortunate. They left Fiji to have their child in Australia. After the birth when they applied for papers they were deported for having brought an illegal alien into the country.

March 10, 2012 10:50 am

Smokey says:
March 10, 2012 at 10:09 am
bladeshearer says:
March 10, 2012 at 7:40 am
“Wonder how the i-Kiribati will adapt to city life?”
There is nothin else but city life on their capital Island of Male. No place to farm, no place to store enough water. They are completely on the dole, supported mainly by Australia.

Smokey:
Perhaps you missed the typo in the Wikipedia quote, “…working with the city of Fiji to evacuate the islands…” 😉

March 10, 2012 10:54 am

Bladeshearer,
That’s Wikipedia or you.

March 10, 2012 11:00 am

wsbriggs says:
March 10, 2012 at 7:33 am

….The problem I see is that once again, well meaning people have seagulled into a space, “helped” the people and left them to their devices without a thought of teaching them even the basic skills of technological survival. The same is done in Haiti, and Africa. Plenty of religious teaching of all flavors though…

Would it not be more realistic to lump Haiti in with the Dominican Republic? They are in he same place, had similar histories and social and political influences. Just as importantly, both have virtually identical climates and soil conditions, yet one of them is verdant and the other one virtually denuded.
How do you figure the outcomes were so different when both had identical origins, similar “help”, and both were left more or less equally “to their devices” and exposed to more or less identical levels of “plenty of religious teaching of all flavors”?

Joachim Seifert
March 10, 2012 11:17 am

Do the moving people have to change their citizenship or is the
newly purchased lands integrated as Alaska into the purchasors realm and
everybody stays with its present citizenship?
Or are we all islanders and nobody cares?

March 10, 2012 11:51 am

I’m always reminded of Hans Rosling when population issues arise.
http://www.gapminder.org/videos/what-stops-population-growth

March 10, 2012 11:57 am

With regard to atolls and tsunamis, since atolls are like skyscrapers
starting at the bottom of the ocean, there is no gradual rise to a beach
which is how tsunamis build up. On the open ocean the tsunami wave
is just a minor extra blip.

Speed
March 10, 2012 12:00 pm

The economics are interesting. This is from the US Department of State …

The end of phosphate revenue from Banaba in 1979 had a devastating impact on the economy. Receipts from phosphates had accounted for roughly 80% of export earnings and 50% of government revenue. Per capita GDP declined by more than half between 1979 and 1981. The Revenue Equalization Reserve Fund (RERF), a trust fund financed by phosphate earnings over the years, is still an important part of the government’s assets and contained more than U.S. $500 million in 2009. However, with the declining returns on offshore investments in the RERF, lower drawdowns from the fund to meet fiscal deficits is vital for the long-term welfare of the country.
In one form or another, Kiribati gets a large portion of its income from abroad. Examples include fishing licenses, development assistance, tourism, and worker remittances. External sources of financing are crucial to Kiribati, given the limited domestic production ability and the need to import nearly all essential foodstuffs and manufactured items. Historically, the I-Kiribati were notable seafarers, and today about 1,400 I-Kiribati are trained, certified, and active as seafarers. Remittances from seafarers are a major source of income for families in the country, and there is a steady annual uptake of young I-Kiribati men to the Kiribati Maritime Training Institute. Remittances from Kiribati workers living abroad provide more than $11 million annually.

It’s a big world.

Rhoda Ramirez
March 10, 2012 12:25 pm

Sounds like if they could get their water situation under control that they’d be a natural for a booming tourism industry.

Paul Deacon
March 10, 2012 12:28 pm

Willis – it’s my understanding that the main reason for the relocation of population from Banaba to Rabi was because most (90%?) of the surface area of Banaba had been removed by (highly profitable) phosphate mining.
I recommend to you the book “A Pattern of Islands” by Arthur Grimble, who was a colonial administrator in the (then) Gilbert and Ellis Islands from just before World War 1. It is one of the most charming books I have ever read, a mixture of personal history, anthropology, traveller’s yarns and humour. Originally a series of radio broadcasts, he made it into a book by popular acclaim.

Doug Jones
March 10, 2012 1:01 pm

Kiribati is a strong cautionary tale for seasteading advocates, who wouldn’t even have the asset of an atoll, but only whatever they could bring from land or extract from the sea.

wsbriggs
March 10, 2012 1:11 pm

Walter H. Schneider says:
March 10, 2012 at 11:00 am
Can you say Papa Doc? The worst of the Dominican dictators pales in comparison. Baby Doc was more of the same, and Aristide substantially as well. Cultural differences also contribute, but I’d guess that the French Colonial policies did the most damage.

March 10, 2012 1:18 pm

All their rain is currently in Australia…

Rosco
March 10, 2012 1:53 pm

There is a good book called “A Pattern of Islands” written by a British colonial assistant about his experience in the then Gilbert and Ellice Islands.
An interesting book.

March 10, 2012 2:12 pm

A sun-powered desal/greenhouse design suitable for hot arid seaside areas:
http://www.seawatergreenhouse.com/technology.html
Generates valuable minerals etc. as a byproduct.
About the implied solution mentioned involving emigration to Japan, it would be a reversal of every cultural and political choice made by the Japanese, ever. Its demographic implosion might — might — induce them to consider it. especially on some of the islands disputed with Russia. How the i-Kiribati would handle the 50°N climate of Etorofu is hard to say, though!

dp
March 10, 2012 2:26 pm

The NELHA project in Kona, Hawaii addresses all the needs of many island nations.
http://www.nelha.org/
It appears to have generated $250 million in income so far. (said tongue in cheek)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_Energy_Laboratory_of_Hawaii_Authority
All you need in this life is to find a way to get on the dole. Anyway, somehow they’re finding a way to mine fresh water in the depths of the ocean which they sell. It could as easily be used to recharge the lens.

Latitude
March 10, 2012 3:24 pm

“Scientists have been surprised by the findings, which show that some islands have grown by almost one-third over the past 60 years. Among the island chains to have increased in land area are Tuvalu and neighbouring Kiribati … In Kiribati, the three of the most densely populated islands, Betio, Bairiki and Nanikai, also grew by between 12.5 and 30 per cent. … “Eighty per cent of the islands we’ve looked at have either remained about the same or, in fact, got larger.” “We’ve now got evidence the physical foundations of these islands will still be there in 100 years,” he told New Scientist magazine. “It has long been thought that as the sea level goes up, islands will sit there and drown. But they won’t,” Professor Kench said.”
http://www.appinsys.com/globalwarming/Kiribati.htm

Latitude
March 10, 2012 3:39 pm

“He said changing rainfall, tidal and storm patterns pose as least as much threat as ocean levels, which so far have risen only slightly.”
============================================
wrong…………………
Here you go……the trend is negative…..sea levels are falling fast at Kiribati
Kiribati* 75 -22.0
http://www.abc.net.au/ra/carvingout/issues/sealevel.htm

March 10, 2012 4:29 pm

“…there are no diphthongs (consonant pairs) in the Kiribati language.”
A diphthong is a vowel pair.

Robert in Calgary
March 10, 2012 4:40 pm

Hello Willis,
For a future thread, if you have the chance, can you check out Moon Handbooks Tahiti guide (7th edition) by David Stanley.
http://www.amazon.com/Moon-Tahiti-Handbooks/dp/1598807382
Pages 250-251 has a section on climate change that would, I think, make Peter Gleick proud.
regards,

Philip Bradley
March 10, 2012 4:46 pm

I lived in a small tropical island state for a number of years – Singapore.
In 60 years Singapore increased the island’s land area by 27% and continues to do so.
Concrete sea walls may not be pretty, but they are effective at extending the land area of island states. They would also help solve the sea water infiltration problem.
That this simple and cheap solution never gets mentioned in the endless reports on ‘rising sea levels’ illustrates how poor a job the media does and how little environmentalists care about the people on these low lying island states.

Latitude
March 10, 2012 4:54 pm

The Kiribati report says the net movement (after adjustment for the rising/sinking of the land) is 2.6 mm per year,
====================================
au contraire….that’s hogwash 😉
Open your link and look, open Kiribati 2010, their figure 4….
Only if you start measuring from the 1997-98 El Nino…..ever since then, sea levels have been slowly falling
Look where they say sea levels were at Kiribati in 1992 when they installed the SEAFRAME gauge…..
The only way they get sea level rise is by counting those two El Nino dips………

Mac the Knife
March 10, 2012 5:00 pm

I experienced a rising sense of dread as I read your article, Willis. Their continued rising population, limited and naturally variable fresh water supplies, and lack of any other viable natural resources will mean disaster if nothing changes. This is a slow motion train wreck, in progress.
I may have missed it in the article (or comments) but what was/is the original source of the phosphates that were mined on the islands? Centuries of bird droppings or ??? What effect did/does the phosphate concentration have on the fresh water lense under the atoll?

Alan Bates
March 10, 2012 5:03 pm

The major problem seems to be with the water supply.
Now, who do we know who is claimed to be an expert on water supply and seems to have time on his hands? Would keep him out of mischief and give him something really useful to do. The name seems to have escaped me …

Philip Bradley
March 10, 2012 5:13 pm

The population density of Singapore is 7,150 per sq kilometer, which is about 18,000 per sq mile, and the government actively promotes immigation. Aiming to increase the population by another 2 million.
So clearly population density per se in Kiribati isn’t the problem.
Kiribati’s problems could easily be solved by modest amounts of money and technical help.

GeoLurking
March 10, 2012 5:37 pm

George [March 10, 2012 at 7:32 am]
“…On the other hand, Japan has a population implosion clocked to occur over the next generation. Seems like a “two birds with one stone” proposition?”
According to the CIA World Factbook, Japan has a population growth rate of -0.077%.

George M
March 10, 2012 7:15 pm

We took a cruise out of Hawaii when I retired- Norwegian Cruise Lines, so they had to make a stop outside the US. They went down to Kiritimati overnight, and stopped in a TINY man-made harbor so we could get off the ship and basically wander around. Kiritimati is tiny, two roughly quarter circile islands with some reefs partially around the circle. NCL was apparently developing a resort on the north island. The south island was about a mile and half long and a quarter mile wide. I took a walk down the dirt strip, maybe a mile or so. There were maybe 100 “houses” on both sides of the path, a house consisting of a raised stick platform for sleeping with a palm thatch roof. Just a rough guess, but maybe 500 people, it looked like 2-3 young ‘uns per house. The agriculture to be seen consisted of at least one pig under just about every house and maybe 1000 coconut palms, plus some fishing canoes. Bought a dozen very pretty, nicely worked bead necklaces for cheap, even though I paid twice what the ladies asked for them.
As Willis says, a very tough place to eke out a living. Without outside help there ain’t no way at all for those people to build a water still. The few people there need all the help they can get from NCL
It was just amazing watch them pilot the 1000 ft. ship through an S-shaped channel maybe 800 ft wide and into a lagoon about 1500 ft. square. With the bow thrusters and stern drives they can turn the ship 360 degrees in its own length. They also used the on-board radar, on autopilot for most of the maneuver. It is just mind bending to see all that technology side by side with literally dirt poor islanders. I still think about them often and wish them well.

jonathan frodsham
March 10, 2012 7:24 pm

Gee sound like “State of Fear” is coming true.

March 10, 2012 7:32 pm

In re: Willis Eschenbach 1:34 pm Atolls and tsunamis;
Thanks for that information. Glad nothing like that happened
when I went to Kwajalein in the 1960’s on work assignments.

Paul Deacon
March 10, 2012 7:49 pm

Willis, this is also from memory, as I do not have “A Pattern of Islands” with me, but I seem to recall that the purchase of Rabi and the relocation was paid for out of the phosphate mining royalties (or something like that).
All the best.

jonathan frodsham
March 10, 2012 7:50 pm

I am surprised that they have not blamed Global Warming on the amazing amount of rubbish now littering their beaches, this is typical in poor nations, as uneducated people have no idea about rubbish disposable. Have a look at this photo:
http://www.tokyoreporter.com/2009/09/14/return-to-tarawa/cooper-jpg-w560h842/

Truthseeker
March 10, 2012 9:10 pm

Willis,
In your excellent article you wrote;
“Don’t cross the women, though, bad mistake, the women will clean your clock if you cross them,”
Did anyone else miss-read that the first time around, or was just me?

Bill Parsons
March 10, 2012 9:27 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
March 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm
Rhoda Ramirez says:
March 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm (Edit)
Sounds like if they could get their water situation under control that they’d be a natural for a booming tourism industry.
Sadly, Rhonda, Kiribati is a bunch of tiny narrow strips of sand with people living in most every square foot of space, and generally using the beaches as their toilets … does that spell “booming tourism” to you? I don’t mean to dis it, and toilet beaches are standard all over the Pacific, you don’t want to pollute the freshwater lens with pit outhouses or septic systems … but still, everyone is living in everyone else’s laps, there’s no privacy, it’s not what most people think of as “secluded island hideaway”.
w.

Sounds like this would be as big a problem as the lack of fresh water. Since I’m ignorant: what do most coastal cities do with their sewage? You can’t be serious about using the beach!
Regardless, it seems that the problems of clean water and sanitation are usually linked, and right at the top of the list of issues third world countries need to address:
So many people and so little rain and so few toilets (?)

dp
March 10, 2012 9:34 pm

Sea walls are what you put up when you wish to increase the rate of coastal erosion and which ultimately are undermined by wave surge. The dichotomy of erosion (natural) and seawall preservation (epic fail) is shown in this flawed article:
http://www2.journalnow.com/news/2009/nov/15/hawaii-facing-erosion-of-its-lure-sandy-beaches-ar-154404/
Back to ocean thermal energy conversion:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_thermal_energy_conversion
Here’s the problem – or a problem. All that cold water brought up from the deep is also bringing up things that live in it. Maybe they’ll drop dead on the way up or maybe they will survive and adapt to a world where they have no natural enemies.
And any cold water not used is waste water that is returned to the sea at the surface where it will have a chilling effect on the environment. The opposite, thermally, to what nukular (sic) plants create in coastal waters.
Of interest to gear heads is this water is retrieved using self-sustaining siphons. Once started it needs to be stopped with great care as the inertia of suddenly halting a 3000′ water column in an underwater pipe will likely birdnest that pipe at the surface.

johanna
March 11, 2012 1:25 am

Philip Bradley says:
March 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm
The population density of Singapore is 7,150 per sq kilometer, which is about 18,000 per sq mile, and the government actively promotes immigation. Aiming to increase the population by another 2 million.
So clearly population density per se in Kiribati isn’t the problem.
Kiribati’s problems could easily be solved by modest amounts of money and technical help.
——————————————————————
In addition to Willis’ comments, you need to understand just how isolated these tiny islands are. Not only does almost everything required for modern life (and a lot of food) have to be imported at vast expense, there is practically nothing they can produce that justifies the cost of exporting it.
Much more viable islands like the Fiji group, which has actual soil that can grow stuff, and tourism, which is about all that keeps them going, have been the repositories of hundreds of millions of dollars of Australian aid alone. It hasn’t helped much. The problems are structural.
It is very unlikely that any remote Pacific island will ever resemble Singapore. About the only thing they viably export is people, who drip feed money back to family in the islands. Even tourism, which is technically an export, is permanently constrained by the high cost of travelling such a long way to such a small place.

Philip Bradley
March 11, 2012 1:39 am

Willis, you might be interested in Pulau Semakau, a 3.5 sq kilometer island built over what were previously coral reefs offshore Singapore.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulau_Semakau
My modest amounts of money, were in the context of the sums spent on AGW. I’m not an engineer, but I know that extending the land of low lying islands and was solved hundreds of years ago, build a wall and raise the level of the land behind it. It is a solution that doesn’t break.
Where do these materials come from?
Well, we currently ship many millions of tons of rocks across the globe, except we call them coal, iron ore, etc.
What Kirabati lacks is money and technical skills to implement a solution.
Water catchment is a problem with similar low tech solutions even older than land reclaimation.
Kiribati’s real problem is that it lacks an economic base. And I don’t have any solutions for that.

Latitude
March 11, 2012 5:38 am

Willis Eschenbach says:
March 10, 2012 at 9:06 pm
Sorry, my friend, but you’ve totally misinterpreted Figure 4. The big swings are what happen at the start of this type of tidal analysis, which is called an “asymptotic trend analysis”. The swings occur, not just from El Ninos, but from any type of phenomenon that affects the sea level.
==============================================================
But Willis, they are all wonky in the beginning….
….if you eliminate the big swings in the beginning, the wonky part
Then, according to their figure 4, sea level has been falling for the past decade

pat
March 11, 2012 8:48 am

The Kiribati share ethnicity with native Fijians so they may be welcome. It has grated on Fijians that its native population, a mix of Melanesia and Polynesia, has been demographically reduced.

Keith Sketchley
March 11, 2012 9:31 am

Interesting article, Willis.
But…..
The history of humans is not one of automatic population increases with increasing prosperity. You mention Japan’s population decreasing – why? Other examples include heavily Catholic Quebec, and countries like Canada in general.
I understand that high birth rate is often due to the desire of parents to have someone to take care of them when they get old (feed them, etc.).
(You infer high death rate in the past, due disease. I presume war is not a factor in this case, unlike Iran and Iraq breeding cannon fodder during the war between them.)
Isn’t the solution self-help of stopping breeding so much? (Sounds like many of the tribal reserves in Canada – dependent on federal government many, not motivated to help themselves or move to where there are jobs. Those with spunk have either reformed the tribe to success or moved away to a real life.)
As for how many people can be accommodated on the proposed plot in Fiji, I don’t think Bangladesh is necessarily a great example. It does have much lowland subject to weather, perhaps roughly akin to Kiribati, but you say Fiji has higher land (but don’t detail the plot being considered). What is the population density where intensive agriculture is practiced?

Keith Sketchley
March 11, 2012 9:35 am

BTW, the Phoenix Islands group (now Nukumanu?) is where Amelia Earhart was headed when she disappeared.
The TIGHAR organization has a plausible theory that she crash-landed on Gardner island (now Nikumaroro) in the chain, which has only been sporadically populated. TIGHAR’s theory is that their navigation strategy was to aim for their destination of Howland, then if not sighted turn southerly because there were other islands in that direction.
(According to Wikipedia Howland and nearby Baker are US territories, but Gardner was given up in 1971. An attempt to farm coconuts foundered in a drought in 1893. An attempt at settlement after Earhart’s time endured for decades but was abandoned in the 1960s due drought and fresh water problems.)
The alternate theory by Mr. and Mrs. Elgen Long is that they ditched in the ocean after exhausting their fuel doing a “square search” for Howland. It has credibility because Mr. Long had navigated in that area, but TIGHAR subsequently did more analysis of radio messages. The Nauticos search was based on their estimates.
(A claim they returned to an island in Papua New Guinea makes no sense, it is likely about a wreck only generally resembling Earhart’s airplane.)

Latitude
March 11, 2012 11:34 am

But as the amount of data increases, the swings get smaller and smaller, and the answer gets more and more accurate.
=============================
Willis, honest I do understand….
That was what I was seeing and trying to convey, as the results get more accurate, the results are showing sea levels falling…………….
They have only been doing this for 20 years….the first 10 years were wonky/less data, record short, everything you just said….
…the second ten years….more data, less wonky…..Using SEAFRAMES own words “The trends continue to stabilize as the length of record increases”……….shows they finally got their act together…and the last 10 years shows sea levels falling
If you eliminate the wonky part…………the first 10 years that are obviously wonky…..
the last 10 years shows sea levels falling………
Lat said:
“But Willis, they are all wonky in the beginning….
….if you eliminate the big swings in the beginning, the wonky part
Then, according to their figure 4, sea level has been falling for the past decade “

dp
March 11, 2012 9:15 pm

The curve is very much like what we called the Schuler curve – the settling curve of an Anschütz gyro compass when first powered up. The math involved will hurt your brain, but it is an amazing thing to see. The Anschütz gyro compass was a marvel of technology and two gyros in a neutral buoyancy globe about the size and weight of a US bowling ball. In the battle of gravity and Earth’s rotation, Dr. Shuler wins in the end as the curve finally flattens.
http://www.scribd.com/suranga1568/d/54419406-Gyro-Theory

Philip Bradley
March 11, 2012 9:29 pm

According to wikipedia the government has already begun to resettle people on uninhabited islands, although I could find no further details.
Owing to a population growth rate of more than 2% and the overcrowding around the capital of South Tarawa, a program of migration was begun in 1989 to move nearly 5,000 inhabitants to outlying atolls, mainly in the Line Islands. A program of resettlement to the mostly uninhabited Phoenix Islands was begun in 1995.
I was surprised at the number of sizeable uninhabited islands in Kiribati.

March 12, 2012 5:40 am

Willis,
Fascinating but very sad article… My wife lived on Tarawa as a young child in the 60’s, and her father (who was the BBC man there) still has contacts there. We were talking about this at Christmas and I showed them both a Google Earth satellite photo – they were both shocked at the level of development compared to then. I shall show them this as well, though it may break their hearts.
Best wishes
Paul

Latitude
March 12, 2012 5:59 am

Thanks Willis!…..now I finally get it…..
It’s hell trying to work with an old brain sometimes……

johanna
March 13, 2012 4:40 am

Here is a link to an update on the Fiji purchase proposal. Sounds like the Kiribati President is a lot more realistic than AGW fantasists. As Willis has said, it is a mistake to confound lack of technology with stupidity – as people who have dealt with Pacific Islanders can attest.
http://junkscience.com/2012/03/12/island-president-rejects-climate-change-evacuation-stories/#more-15510
h/t Junkscience and GWPF

Keith Sketchley
March 15, 2012 1:58 pm

And just for grins, here’s a big atoll
http://www.avweb.com/newspics/potw/1809/large/10.jpg
The diversion/refuelling airport of Wake Island.
(Photo by Francis Martin of Milton, DE from http://www.avweb.com/avwebflash/potw/PictureOfTheWeek_206324-1.html.)
Colleagues years ago ferried a 727-100C from SE Asia to Vancouver Canada, via Wake, Midway, and Hawaii.
You get your navigation and fuel reserves right out there, or ….
(I was on a DC-10 HNL-YVR, a number of fellow passengers had been on the previous day’s flight that turned back from PNR – weather was going down all along the coast and they did not have enough reserves to try for Denver or Calgary.
I predicted there’d be much discussion in the airline’s dispatch centre about how their forecasting got in that situation. Though that’s what Point-of-No-Return and fuel reserves are for, you want it to be a very rare case for safety and direct economics.)

March 19, 2012 5:53 am

The Kiribati may have a very valuable resource they aren’t aware of as such:
fertile women.
Depopulation by birth shortage in all the world — except the US; huge male child imbalances throughout Asia; falling lifespan in Russia.
http://www.fpri.org/ww/0505.200407.eberstadt.demography.html
SE Asia, too, with the added hyper-complication of a 10:1 preference for male (surviving) children, and a de facto 1.26:1 male/female outcome (vs. the ‘natural’ 1.07:1).

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