Don’t holler for a Marshall (Island) just yet

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From National Geographic

Julie Bishop is in strife with the left-leaning Twittersphere for making light of the plight of Pacific Islanders, who are seemingly in peril of sinking beneath the waves due to global warming unless they receive large shipments of cash from the developed West that pumped all that planet-cooking carbon dioxide into the air.

You’d think Julie would have been a little more careful, after her colleague Mr Potato Head committed a similar jocular gaffe not so long ago courtesy of a media boom mike disguised as a media boom mike.

But are the plucky Tuvaluans, Kiribatians and Marshall Islanders really about to sink into the Pacific?

Not necessarily, according to a growing body of evidence amassed by New Zealand coastal geomorphologist Paul Kench, of the University of Auckland’s School of Environment, and colleagues in Australia and Fiji, who have been studying how reef islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans respond to rising sea levels.

They found that reef islands change shape and move around in response to shifting sediments, and that many of them are growing in size, not shrinking, as sea level inches upward. The implication is that many islands—especially less developed ones with few permanent structures—may cope with rising seas well into the next century.

But for the areas that have been transformed by human development, such as the capitals of Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Maldives, the future is considerably gloomier. That’s largely because their many structures—seawalls, roads, and water and electricity systems—are locked in place.

Their analysis, which now extends to more than 600 coral reef islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, indicates that about 80 percent of the islands have remained stable or increased in size (roughly 40 percent in each category). Only 20 percent have shown the net reduction that’s widely assumed to be a typical island’s fate when sea level rises.

Some islands grew by as much as 14 acres (5.6 hectares) in a single decade, and Tuvalu’s main atoll, Funafuti—33 islands distributed around the rim of a large lagoon—has gained 75 acres (32 hectares) of land during the past 115 years.

Two-thirds of the reef islands in the study migrated lagoon-ward as their ocean-side coastlines eroded and sediment built up on the side facing the lagoon. One of Funafuti’s islands shifted more than 350 feet (106 meters) over 40 years.

Reef islands, Kench says, are among the most dynamic landforms on Earth. And Tuvalu’s are some of the most dynamic on record.

But what if sea level rise caused by global warming proceeds much more quickly than the 50cm or so over the next century that research indicated at least until recently?  Some recent studies suggest that collapsing ice sheets may lead to significantly more and faster sea level rise.  Could that overwhelm coral atolls’ dynamic capabilities?  No-one knows, so you can’t blame the Pacific Islanders for being nervous.

And to the extent that the atolls’ remarkable historical resilience is helped by coral regrowth, what will happen in future as many corals die off under the impact of higher ocean temperatures?  Again no-one really knows, although some research suggests that other more temperature-resistant corals might simply become dominant:

Some coral types, such as staghorn corals, are especially sensitive to bleaching, and these will be the most seriously affected. Coral communities will increasingly be dominated by types that are more tolerant to temperature stress.

Large, fleshy seaweeds (macroalgae), which compete with corals for space on the reef, will also benefit from rising temperatures and coral bleaching. Scientists have shown that degrading reefs can be rapidly overgrown by these macroalgae, which in turn impede coral recovery. Reefs dominated by macroalgae and bleaching-resistant corals have less three-dimensional structure than healthy coral reefs. Such reefs provide fewer shelters and refuges for the many animals that rely on the reef for their habitat.

So the Marshallese, Tuvaluans et al may not actually sink beneath the waves, but many of their existing settlements will probably become inundated and need to be rebuilt elsewhere, while staple industries like tourism and fishing are likely to be decimated.  So we really should make substantial foreign aid payments to help Pacific Island coral atoll nations adjust to the impacts of climate change, though for reasons a little more complicated than those usually claimed.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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conrad
conrad
6 years ago

I suspect it would be cheaper simply to move the populations of some of those Islands here and to NZ (and other willing places) rather than pay them aid, assuming many would want to come as their own homelands become more difficult to live in.

The real problems will come from places like Bangladesh and the low lying regions of Pakistan.

peter
6 years ago

What do we know about any population policies evident in the Pacific, which I presume might be a factor in any aid response? Places like Tarawa, somewhere around the size of Nauru I believe has a population of around 50 000, a big multiple (5 fold?) of our offshore detention friend. Now there’s a thought!

ChrisB
6 years ago

If Australia offered to take in every pacific islander the tradeoff would be that we had about a hundred thousand immigrants and gained ownership of the bulk of the pacific ocean. Which must be worth something to a nation that could defend it. Though, to be sure, we don’t defend the waters we have now terribly well.

Rigby
Rigby
6 years ago

The problem with articles such as this, is they send the message that things are not so bad after all, because they look at one point only instead of the whole picture. Reefs might have been able to cope successfully with change during the last 10,000 years of reactively stable climatic conditions, but the wilder storms and typhoons out there in the middle of the ocean are already taking meteorologists by surprise. When a one in a hundred year cyclone bashes a coral atoll every two years, it can’t recover. When the sea temperature starts to kill off the corals, they can’t recover. And when, not if, the Greenland ice shelf, or antarctic glaciers slide rapidly into the sea, a sudden increase of a metre or so will be very difficult for the corals to adapt to. And when rainfall patterns change, as they already have, so they run out of fresh water…what then?

Jim
Jim
6 years ago

Ken

My experience as an economist working on projects in the Pacific is that researchers and development bureaucrats in the developed world are so fixated on climate change (because it is a sexy problem to solve), that assistance for the fundamentals of development (better health, education, sanitation, water supplies, string governance etc.) are often being overlooked.

The consequence in the Pacific is that a small island state can relatively easily get funding for a high risk investment called something like An ecosystem-based adaptation to increased climate change risks in coastal zones in (insert name of community here) (a fancy way of saying replant mangroves).

But they would struggle to get funding for a risk project called something like A truck, a pump and a worker to pump out the septic tanks so we don’t get sick all the time, because the immediate risk is not tied to climate change.

Paul Kench is right. Places like Tuvalu are not going to disappear in our lifetimes, but their measurable development outcomes will probably decline while we wait to find out because we dropped the ‘aid ball’ when it comes to the basics.

Rafe
5 years ago

Good call Jim. I would like to invite people who are worried about warming (which has not actually happened for 18 years) to contemplate the damage that is being done here and now by anti-warming strategies.

For example the people dying of starvation due to diversion of corn out of the food chain into petrol tanks; the jobs lost in western industries like steel and aluminium refining, and all the industries that are sensitive to the cost of power; the money lost in failed renewables schemes; the diversion of debate from other important topics like debt and regulation.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
5 years ago
Reply to  Rafe

You’ve always been a humanitarian like that Rafe. Always worried about the little guy, irrespective of ideology.

Jim
Jim
5 years ago
Reply to  Rafe

Rafe

It wasn’t the intention of my post to give the impression I don’t think climate change is happening. I’m convinced by the science that it is.

My problem is that much of the sexy climate change related aid is going to projects with high technical risk and low economic payoffs. And this aid has crowded out other aid for more immediate needs that will have a 100% chance of assisting in achieving development objectives.

Rafe
5 years ago
Reply to  Jim

Yes, as Keynes said, we are all dead in the long run so lets attend to immediate needs in developing countries that are likely to be overlooked in favour of the sexy climate related initiatives, as you said. We are in furious agreement on this!:)

Rafe
5 years ago

I like to think so Nicholas. Do you have a problem with that?

By the way, have you any second thoughts about this exchange:)

http://clubtroppo.lateraleconomics.com.au/2011/07/20/to-fisk-and-to-monckton/

I am and will always be Not Trampis
I am and will always be Not Trampis
5 years ago
Reply to  Rafe

any thoughts of a reply Rafe

Yr
Yr
5 years ago

Nice Nicholas. Tell us, devoting anymore statues to your dad? He was a great groveller to politicians too. You learnt from the best.

Rafe, you should stop commenting here , as the passive aggressive dickhead doesn’t like it and will scratch you.

I am and will always be Not Trampis
I am and will always be Not Trampis
5 years ago

Sorry Rafe it has occurred for the last 18 years.

Poor old Rafe never was good at Maths.nor is his mate monkton. continually changes his starting date ( why?) and then tells anyone how je avoided autocorrelation.

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion
5 years ago

Plenty of thoughts for a reply. For a start, follow the money. In the US, tend of billions of dollars are spent on climate-related projects, driven out of the office of the President.

As of 2014, the coordination of climate-change-related activities resides largely in the president’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, which houses several separate offices, including Environment and Energy, Polar Sciences, Ocean Sciences, Clean Energy and Materials R&D, Climate Adaptation and Ecosystems, National Climate Assessment, and others. The Office of the President also maintains the National Science and Technology Council, which oversees the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability and its Subcommittee on Climate Change Research. The subcommittee is charged with the responsibility of planning and coordinating with the interagency USGCRP. Also, the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy is housed within the president’s Domestic Policy Council. Although Congress authorizes executive-branch budgets, the priorities these departments and agencies follow are set by the White House.

Can you expect good scientific work to emerge from a program that is driven by a political agenda? Karl Popper predicted long ago that the progress of science could be disturbed by giving the government control of the laboratories and clamping down on free speech. Incidentally the President accepted the absurd Cook at al claim about the 97.1% consensus.

Not surprisingly, the politically driven funding results in massive waste in the hands of crony capitalists charged with the mission of climate change mitigation.

Section 1705 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 authorized the DOE to provide taxpayer loan guarantees and direct-investment subsidies for the development of green technologies. As the program wound down in 2014, $16 billion had been allocated to twenty-seven firms. As Christine Lakatos (2014) has reported in detail, the majority of the firms had officers or investors with close ties to political insiders at the federal and state levels, campaign bundlers, donors, and DOE agency officials. Of these firms, several have declared bankruptcy, accounting for $3 billion in taxpayer losses,57 and several others that Victor Nava and Julian Morris (2013) list as “troubled recipients” account for another $3.5 billion. Of the eighteen firms that were not listed as “troubled,” fourteen, representing $11.3 billion in loan guarantees, had not completed their projects as of the end of 2013, and only four firms with loan guarantees of $352.6 million had completed projects. In summary, of the $16 billion in DOE loan guarantees, about $15.6 billion represent bankrupt, troubled, or incomplete taxpayer investments as of 2013.

http://catallaxyfiles.com/2015/11/28/the-climate-caper-crony-science-leads-to-crony-capitalism/

I am and will always be Not Trampis
I am and will always be Not Trampis
5 years ago

Congratulations Rafe, you have typically avoided the questions.

They were: Why has YOUR man Monkton continually changed his starting point for the alleged pause ( which never happened.)

Why can’t you answer the question of autocorrelation?

It is okay Rafe you can say you do not understnd like the rest of your catallaxy cronies!

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion
5 years ago

I came into this debate to support Jim’s call for more realistic and relevant assistance to third world nations. That means paying attention to immediate issues of real and present significance (like the need for access to electric power) and not the hypotheticals associated with unrealistic predictions about the future climate. I also suggested that we need to be more mindful of the real costs of climate mitigation strategies, like the higher cost of power, job losses and the tens of thousands who are dying each year due to the corn that is diverted into petrol tanks from the food chain.

For the sake of people who want to follow the money to explain the bias in research findings I noted the tens of billions of dollars directed into climate research and mitigation from the office of President Obama, a man who accepted the notion that there is a 97.1% consensus for alarmism.

I want to go a step further to address the question of why so many scientists and their associations have nailed their colours to the mast of the ship of alarmism. Clearly part of the answer is to follow the money. Another is the mentality of saving the world that grips many people. Another part of the jigsaw was provided by the late Gordon Tullock, a lawyer/economist who wrote a book “The Organization of Inquiry” to explore how the rules and institutions of science worked well in the natural sciences and not so well in the social sciences. He sketched a scenario for the kind of changes in the ethos and the organization of science that could result in a serious decline in the quality of the work. I think this scenario has happened in the mainstream of climate science, although the book was published in 1966, long before climate science became an issue. This will give you the gist of the thesis.

http://catallaxyfiles.com/2016/01/03/gordon-tullock-on-the-debacle-of-climate-science/

Trampis, I am prepared to discuss details if it really helps, however I don’t want to lose sight of the big picture. That is the massive government funding which has corrupted the scientific enterprise, and the failure of 90 or more climate models which were use to generate alarm, to provide a realistic guide to the present and the future.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/09/17/how-reliable-are-the-climate-models/

I think you will find that whatever starting date anyone wants to use for the pause, the movement in temperature has not deviated upwards from the trend of the last century which saw an increase in the range of 0.7 to 0.9 C.

I am and will always be Not Trampis
I am and will always be Not Trampis
5 years ago

Typically Rafe you again avoid the question.

Oh by the way Mann’s hockey stick has been replicated over THIRTY times.

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion
5 years ago

LOL.

Very droll Trampis:)

Just follow the money!

I am and will always be Not Trampis
I am and will always be Not Trampis
5 years ago

if you want to believe there is a pause then you do not pick and choose different starting points and if you use monthly data you have to come up with an explanation of autocorrelation.

Tou can do neither

I am and will always be Not Trampis
I am and will always be Not Trampis
5 years ago

You could read THIS however I doubt if you will understand it.

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion
5 years ago

Fantastic, now we have pause deniers!

I am and will always be Not Trampis
I am and will always be Not Trampis
5 years ago

typical ,can’t answer the question.

you really are a waste of time.