The average height of the islands is approximately 6.5 feet. Already, land is scarce and drinking water can be in short supply. There’s nowhere to retreat.
So concerns about climate change are felt very acutely here. Though estimates are rough, scientists predict average sea levels could rise as much as 3 feet by the end of the century due to global warming.
Science, of course, tends to be conservative, moving forward only as it can supply strong evidence for each step. As such, people looking for direct, solid links between global warming and the loss of land that is already happening in Kiribati are likely to find enough play in the evidence that they can deny it altogether if they have sufficient reason (paging Leon Festinger…).
And they have sufficient reason, in religious belief.
Tito says he believes in the Biblical account of Noah’s ark. In that story, after God devastates the world with a flood, he makes a covenant with Noah that he will never send another.
So while Tito does acknowledge that global warming is affecting the planet and that he has noticed some impacts, he says rising sea levels are not as serious a threat as Tong and others are making them out to be.
“Saying we’re going to be under the water, that I don’t believe,” Tito says. “Because people belong to God, and God is not so silly to allow people to perish just like that.”
Indeed, the current president’s religious faith has come under question, simply because he has (quite understandably, given their precarious position) chosen to draw attention to climate change problems!
The NPR story is part one of a two-part series. I’m really looking forward to part two!