Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Betrayal of a Nation. How the Kiribati People Will be Left to Drown

Anote's Ark is a film by Matthieu Rytz describing the plight of the Kiribati islands, threatened by the rising sea level. 


Anote's Ark is a beautiful movie that follows the fight of Kiribati's president, Anote Tong, on behalf of his people, trying to save them from the rising sea. The movie succeeds in telling the story and in making its case without preaching or pleading. But it hides the last phase of the story: the betrayal of an entire nation, taking place right now.

It is just a hint at the end of the movie: a line of text appearing on the screen, stating that the new Kiribati President, elected in 2016, has been reversing the policies of his predecessor. Nothing more is said but, if you look at the story on the Web, you see that it is true. For instance, we read on CBS news of November 2017, that the new government,
. . . proclaims the goal of promoting tourism by attracting foreign investors to develop "5-star eco-friendly resorts that would promote world-class diving, fishing and surfing experiences" on currently uninhabited islands. It says the nation's 20-year plan "has an ambitious aim to transform Kiribati into the Dubai or Singapore of the Pacific." 
And the new president Taneti Maamau, says that,

". . . we don't believe that Kiribati will sink like the Titanic ship. Our country, our beautiful lands, are created by the hands of God."
We all know that "whom the gods would destroy they first make mad" which seems to be describing the situation in the Kiribati islands. But we also know that there is method in some madnesses, and this may be one of those cases.

I already noted the case of the government of the Maldives, which went through the same policy U-turn as in Kiribati - that is from trying to save the islands to turning them into world-class tourist resorts. I titled my piece as "Those whom the Gods would destroy, they drive toward the Seneca Cliff" noting that,
Imagine that you are part of the elite of the Maldives. And imagine that you are smart enough to understand what's going on with the Earth's climate. As things stand today, it is clear that it is too late to stop a burst of global warming that will push temperatures so high that nothing will save the Maldives. Maybe not next year but in a few decades, it is nearly certain. So, given the situation, what is the rational thing for you to do? Of course, it is to sell what you can sell as long as you can find a sucker who will buy. Then you can say good riddance to those who remain. What we are seeing, therefore, is a game in which someone will be left holding the short end of the dynamite stick. When the elites of the Maldives will have left for higher grounds, the poor will be stuck there. For them, the Seneca Cliff ends underwater.
Exactly the same thing seems to be going on with the Kiribati islands. You don't have to be especially smart to understand that the rest of the world will not do anything to help the islanders. They will be left to drown while the people of the "developed" world will keep driving their SUVs. But, for those Kiribati people who have bank accounts on dry land, the road to salvation is clear.

It is, in the end, a new manifestation of what I called "The Camper's Dilemma." It is what happens when betrayal is judged to pay more than collaboration. In this case, overt betrayal is often preceded by a phase of active deception - it is something that governments are masters at doing with their citizens (as I argued for the case of Italy during ww2).

The cases of small islands are not isolated, only more evident than others. Look at what Donald Trump is doing: he downplays climate change in favor of economic development, just what the Kiribati's and Maldives' governments are doing. If the US elites have decided that there is no hope to save everyone, the logical thing for them is to move into "cheating mode" and let most people die not just by sea level rise, but by starvation, sickness, and other consequences of climate change. That gives them the time to prepare, accumulating resources for the coming emergency.

If this interpretation is correct, the elites of most of the developed world will soon follow suit in the denial of climate change. We have just to wait and see.

Note 1: The Kiribati islands, just like the Maldives, are coral islands. That gives them a certain resilience. They can cope with modest rises, but that's not enough fo the kind of changes that we are expecting 

Note 2: For a fictionalized version of this post, see "The True Story of the Fall of Troy"

Note 3: I don't mean that the elites of the world tend to get together in smoke-filled rooms where they discuss the grand plan for the extermination of the poor. I mean that there is a certain logic in a certain kind of actions and that this logic may even be followed without consciously realizing that. In other words, H.E. president Maamau may be sincerely convinced that God will save the Kiribati Islands


  1. If anyone thinks that we're going to somehow, someday, solve this man-made climate crisis (of rising seas, starvation, loss of shipping, etc.) then I suggest you look at the human record. We have never, ever faced a challenge this big. Several studies suggest that it cannot be done. Ever. It's too late now.

    So letting people die is what we are actually good at (or making sure that happens), especially within the developed world, and particularly, within the United States.

    All talk of solutions, actions, limits, etc., etc., is just that - talk. Never going to happen. Kiribati is just on the forefront of non-action and indifference, but so are other islanders and even Americans in Louisiana and Alaska and Florida.

    It's patently absurd to overlook the utter impossibility of replacing the missing ice world wide. If you still don't understand that simple truth - the rising water is here to stay - forever. Or for all practical purposes, forever, because mankind will self-destruct long before another ice age eventually reoccurs on a soon-to-be sterile planet.

    That'll be nice, if it scrapes of the scum and the grime and the evidence of our reckless civilization.

    Kiribati's "betrayal" is being repeated globally. Right now, it's about who can stay in power, who can stay profitable, who can make obscene profits while exploiting whatever is still left.

    If you want to know the future of the planet - just go visit a Costco, or any other box store. Inside is the exploitation of planetary resources for the benefit of the indifferent but spoiled few.

    That will last a long while yet as energy and resources and expenditures continue to flow to the mega-state empires and the rest of the world simply has the very life sucked right out of it, withering, drowning, and dying from drought, starvation, resource destruction and pollution and rampant diseases unchecked.

    Humans are not going to change. Our species is evil. Our pretense at democracy, freedom, individual liberties, et. al., are simply extension of surplus resources and energy, and when that is gone as it will be, we will still be what we have always been - ruthless predators, willing to exercise our talents, skills, power and ruthlessness upon anything and everything.

    Oddly, few seem to realize that we're getting exactly what we want. It's a foregone conclusion that our civilization will eventually and utterly fail. We exchanged millennia of future habitability and survival for temporary pleasures lasting only a few hundred years, preferring profits and comfort and still cannot admit to any of this or our ongoing complicity to this ecocidal destruction.

    It doesn't even really matter, now does it? We're still sitting almost entirely silent, acting like more words and empty concern and pathetic levels of donations and efforts will somehow, magically turn this all around. Really?

    What a joke. Self-delusion at its finest. Everyday we actively contribute to our own destruction, holding onto our false hopium and our addictions and reams of useless stuff, desperately trying to not think about all of it. Or the look of terror we will have inflicted upon our children's faces.

    Yeah, we're truly malignant and evil. We rightly foresee our own destruction and that of the living biosphere and we're still unwilling to stop it.

    It doesn't get any more evil then that. ~Survival Acres~

    1. That's too pessimistic. There are millions if not billions of species that are more resilient than we are - some of them will survive, evolution will continue. It's just a temporary setback.

  2. Human beings have always survived by......moving.

    Of course, this crisis eclipses all others, and moving will, for most, not work.

    Such is Fate.

  3. Bangladesh (more or less) is about 163MLN of people, in 2050 is 202MLN of people.

    It will be the first big country to sink, for the sea level rising issue.

    Many military and economic questions are rising behind visual range future:

    Will I°,II°,III°countrys in the world pay a CARBON TAX, so Bangladesh people will get some money to buy blowpipe to breath underwater? or Will detonate a war by land and sea, between India and Bangladesh?

    Will India act to contain a massive migration of the Bangladesh people?

    Can India accept silently the inland migration of 202 Million of Bangladesh people in India, without flashpoints of their own Indian people, for the huge deterioration of economic, food, fresh water situation in India by new comers and Monsoon crisis too?

    Will China, Pakistan, India, Myanmar help Bangladesh people? or Will China, Pakistan, Myanmar use the Bangladesh issue to damage India, because India will be a big competitor in the international markets and an active player for China containment?

    Will Iran help Bangladesh issue or it will stay out from this stuff?

    Will super rich middle east petroldollar people help Bangladesh people?

    Will China, USA, UE, India, Russia, Iran, Brasil, South Africa, Australia and many other nations, bring fresh water from South Pole with blue tankers for feeding the world?

    Mankind hystory will tell, for the moment if you wanna know more about climate change wars, please look at :-)

    then read the FIVE books of the saga: The rise of Chartago! :-) in italian language only.

  4. Google maps and Kiribati
    I had no idea where Kiribati was, or what it looked like. So I looked on Google Maps. Then take a look at the pictures. The largest picture I saw was of a giant, diesel powered, earth moving machine. Also quite a few pictures of big boats and airplanes. I can understand why a President of Kiribati who talked about eliminating fossil fuels would find himself unelected.
    Don Stewart

    New data from the younger Dryass spoke about the AMOC slowdown before its collapse.

    AMOC Tipping point could be much near as everybody think...

  6. Coral ilands grows about 4 mm per year, which is more than the sea-level is rising, so you don't have to worry. These islands are constantly changing because of erosion, which can give the impression of looming disaster, but it is fully natural.
    It is no coincident that the most effected coral-ilands are those that are inhabited and have been built on.

    1. I know that, Markus. I even published a post on the subject at But about not having to worry, well ... I wrote that

      there is nothing special in the modern coral reefs having survived the sea level rise of a few centimeters of the past decades. As long as the sea level rise is not too fast, the islands can probably stay above water - perhaps they can even cope better with climate change than some low elevation continental lands.

      But it is a precarious survival. Even for the modest sea level rise of the past decades, the Maldives experienced some 30 severe floods during the past 50 years, including several which affected the capital city of Malé. In 2007, a series of swells forced the evacuation of more than 1,600 people from their homes and damaged more than 500 housing units.

      Periodic flooding is a problem for Maldivians, but the real problem is that, unlike the population of continents or of large islands, they have no place to escape. The islands are uniformly flat, there is no high ground to retreat to. If there comes a true big flooding, the inhabitants will be swept away.

      That could happen: the current temperature increase is so fast that the sea level rise may well reach rates beyond anything that the coral reefs can cope with. To say nothing of the threats to the reef coming from seawater acidification and of human destruction for fishing or because of pollution. If the corals die, the islands are lost. And the corals are already dying. Nobody can bet that the Maldives - and many other coral islands - will still exist by the end of the century.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)