Fox News host Greg Gutfeld dismissed the notion that small island states face an existential threat from climate change. However, studies have shown that ongoing climate change has severe consequences for the habitability of many small islands.
Fox Dismisses Existential Threat To Small Islands
UN Security Council Considered Security Threat Posed By Climate Change, Especially To Small Island States. The Guardian reported on July 20:
A special meeting of the United Nations security council is due to consider whether to expand its mission to keep the peace in an era of climate change.
Small island states, which could disappear beneath rising seas, are pushing the security council to intervene to combat the threat to their existence.
There has been talk, meanwhile, of a new environmental peacekeeping force - green helmets - which could step into conflicts caused by shrinking resources. [The Guardian, 7/20/11]
Fox's Gutfeld: "They Actually Believe That, Like, Small Island States Are Going To Disappear." From the July 21 edition of Fox News' The Five:
GREG GUTFELD: U.N. Security Council is considering climate change peacekeeping. And they're having a meeting to discuss whether they should intervene in conflicts, due to rising sea levels. They actually believe that, like, small island states are going to disappear because of climate change. And there are even people that are saying, and this is at the U.N., that climate change is worse than terrorism. Is that amazing, Eric?
ERIC BOLLING: The U.N. and tree huggers are kind of like the Mickey Mouse Club for liberals so they feel better about themselves, meanwhile at our taxpayer dime. That's the problem. Neither one work.
GUTFELD: How can you build an entire U.N. initiative on a science that everybody is debating anyway?
BOB BECKEL: Nobody is debating. Flat earth people are debating it.
GUTFELD: Do you believe that small islands are disappearing?
GUTFELD: You do. Show me a small island that has disappeared.
BECKEL: If it disappeared I couldn't show it to you, could I?
GUTFELD: Well done, my friend. Well played. You got me. [Fox News, The Five, 7/21/11]
Experts Say Small Islands Do Face Massive Security Threat
IPCC: Small Islands Are "Especially Vulnerable" To Sea-Level Rise Due To Climate Change. The IPCC's Working Group II concluded with "very high confidence" (at least 9 out of 10 chance of being correct) that small islands "have characteristics which make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea-level rise, and extreme events." The report further stated:
Sea-level rise is expected to exacerbate inundation, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities (very high confidence).
Some studies suggest that sea-level rise could lead to a reduction in island size, particularly in the Pacific, whilst others show that a few islands are morphologically resilient and are expected to persist. Island infrastructure tends to predominate in coastal locations. In the Caribbean and Pacific islands, more than 50% of the population live within 1.5 km of the shore. Almost without exception, international airports, roads and capital cities in the small islands of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Caribbean are sited along the coast, or on tiny coral islands. Sea-level rise will exacerbate inundation, erosion and other coastal hazards, threaten vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities, and thus compromise the socio-economic well-being of island communities and states. [IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, 2007, emphasis original]
Several Small Island States "Are Expected To Lose Significant Proportions Of Their Land." From an article published in Ecological and Environmental Anthropology reviewing research on climate change and Small Island Developing States (SIDS):
For SIDS, sea level rise is arguably the most certain and potentially devastating climate change impact. According to IPCC (2007), during the 21st century, sea level will rise at least 0.18 m and perhaps as much as 0.59 m. IPCC (2007), though, explicitly does not provide an upper bound to the maximum possible sea level rise, stating that the final maximum rise by 2100 might exceed these projections, partly because of inputs from ice sheet break up in Greenland and Antarctica. In the small likelihood that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses raising global mean sea level by approximately five meters (Vaughan and Spooge, 2002), the coastal zones of all SIDS would be entirely flooded, covering many entire SIDS and a significant proportion of most SIDS' capital cities and ports.
Even without that extreme scenario, under average IPCC (2007) scenarios, several SIDS are expected to lose significant proportions of their land due to sea level rise, including Tuvalu, Tonga, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tokelau, and the Maldives. Even larger SIDS with much land area well above potential sea level rise--such as Fiji, Puerto Rico, and Samoa--could have problems since most settlements and infrastructure are in the coastal zone while the hilly, inland regions would experience severe ecological changes in settling all the migrants.
Care must be taken before assuming island destruction due to sea-level rise, because the expected physical changes to low-lying islands under sea-level rise scenarios have not been well-studied. Significant geomorphological changes are likely, but complete inundation and loss of all land is not inevitable (e.g. Harvey and Mitchell, 2003; Kench and Cowell, 2002). Yet that does not necessarily imply that these islands will remain inhabitable over the long term.
Air temperatures are projected to increase between 1°C and 4°C by 2100 relative to 1961-1990 for all SIDS regions (Mimura et al., 2007). Sea surface temperature data are more limited, but also appear to be rising (IPCC, 2007). Warming oceans have depleted zooplankton and have resulted in considerable coral bleaching in some SIDS regions (UNFCCC, 2005, 2007). Coral bleaching occurs if coral cannot adapt fast enough to increasing sea surface temperatures. These events have the capacity to eliminate more than 90% of the corals on a reef, destroying the ecosystem, leaving islands exposed to ocean waves and storms, and eliminating many SIDS livelihoods. [Ecological and Environmental Anthropology, 2009]
Geographical Journal Paper: "At Some Point, Many Land Areas Will Become Incapable Of Sustaining Life." From a September 2009 paper in The Geographical Journal, a journal of the Royal Geographical Society:
Climate change analysts predict that within the coming decades, atoll nations, like the two presented in this paper [Kiribati and Tuvalu], will almost certainly revert to sandbars and then to nothing. In the meantime, as global mean sea levels gradually rise, climate change-induced migrations in the two countries will continue to occur at an increasing rate.
The larger impact of climate change will challenge the capacity of every country, and eventually inundate some. The secondary impacts of this change will exacerbate existing problems of water scarcity, access to health services, land scarcity, food security and will marginalise vulnerable communities as impacts intensify. At some point, many land areas will become incapable of sustaining life and people will be forced to migrate. However, before forced migration, sparked by global mean sea level rise, occurs there are many existing environmental and health-related crises that will overwhelm local capacities to cope. Cases of malaria and dengue fever have already shown a sharp increase, driven by rising global temperatures, stagnating water, increased humidity and solar radiation (Lutz et al. 2001, 22). Drought, water scarcity and land degradation will also have serious costs. As resources become increasingly scarce, vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly, will become increasingly at risk of disease. Ultimately, these consequences will most likely lead to an increase in insecurity, for as resources become increasingly scarce, land-use conflicts will intensify. [The Geographical Journal, September 2009]
UN Report: Some Small Island Nations "Would Become Uninhabitable" If Recent Sea-Level Estimates Occur. From a report on "Trends in Sustainable Development: Small Island Developing States (SIDS)" by the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs:
A large proportion of the population of many SIDS lives in the low elevation coastal zone (LECZ), defined as the contiguous area along the coast that is less than 10 metres above sea level. These settlements are extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise, storm surges, floods, and other climate change-induced hazards. In 2007, the IPCC estimated that by 2100, global warming will lead to a sea-level rise of 180 to 590 mm, while more recent research suggests that these estimates are likely to be at least twice as large, up to about two meters. Nations such as Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu will become uninhabitable in this scenario, while a large share of the population of many other SIDS will be displaced or otherwise adversely impacted.
The small size and extremely low elevation of the coral islands that make up the Maldives place the residents and their livelihoods under threat from climate change, particularly sea-level rise. The highest land point is a mere 2.4 metres above sea level, and over 80 per cent of the total land area is less than 1m above sea level. At present, 42 per cent of the population and 47 per cent of all housing structures are within 100m of coastline, placing them under sever threat of inundation. Over the last 6 years, more than 90 inhabited islands [in the Maldives] have been flooded at least once and 37 islands have been flooded regularly or at least once a year. During the 2004 tsunami, many of the islands were completely submerged, illustrating their critical vulnerability.
Given the severity of anticipated sea-level rise, population relocation is viewed as inevitable. The government has planned to begin diverting a portion of the country's annual tourism revenue for the establishment of an investment fund, with a view to purchasing 'dry land' to ensure a safe haven for future evacuation. Maldives' planned evacuations in anticipation of loss of land will inevitably impact sovereignty and national identity. [United Nations, 2010, in-text citations removed for clarity]
Study: "Small Low-Lying Islands Could Be Abandoned Due To Sea-Level Rise Long Before They Become Physically Uninhabitable." From the abstract of a widely cited study by Sheila Arenstam Gibbons and R. J. Nicholls:
Small islands are widely agreed to be vulnerable to human-induced sea-level rise during the 21st century and beyond, with forced abandonment of some low-lying oceanic islands being a real possibility. A regional abandonment of islands in the Chesapeake Bay, USA provides an historical analog of such vulnerability as this has been linked to a mid 19th Century acceleration in relative sea-level rise. Using a case study approach for Holland Island, Maryland, this hypothesis was tested using a range of physical and human historical data. While sea-level rise was the underlying driver, this analysis shows that the abandonment was more complex than a direct response to sea-level rise. Between 1850 and 1900, Holland Island was a booming community and population increased from 37 to 253, with immigration causing the majority of the increase. At the same time, the upland area where people made their homes was steadily diminishing, losing about 15 ha or 38% of the total. After 1900, the island experienced a decrease in population to 169 in 1916, with final abandonment in 1918, with the exception of one family who left by 1920. Final abandonment was triggered by this depopulation as the population fell below a level that could support critical community services, and the community lost faith in their future on Holland Island. It is likely that similar social processes determined the abandonment of the other Chesapeake Bay islands. Looking to the future, it shows that many small low-lying islands could be abandoned due to sea-level rise long before they become physically uninhabitable. [Global Environmental Change, 2005]
Flooding Linked To Climate Change Has Already Created Refugees From Small Island Communities. Environment News Service reported in 2005:
A village of 100 people in the Pacfic island nation of Vanuatu has become one of the first communities forced to move as a result of global warming.
After their coastal homes were repeatedly swamped by surges and large waves linked with climate change driven storms, in August the villagers of Lateu were relocated to higher ground in the interior of Tegua, one of Vanuatu's northern provinces.
The high coral reef, Lateu's previous line of defense against high tides and waves, had ceased to protect the village and the coastline was eroding between two and three meters (seven to 10 feet) a year.
Taito Nakalevu, climate change adaptation officer with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, which carried out the work with funding from the Canadian Government, said, "We are seeing king tides across the region flooding islands. These are normal events, but it is the frequency that is abnormal and a threat to livelihoods. People are being forced to build sea walls and other defenses not just to defend their homes, but to defend agricultural land," he said.
Vanuatu is not the only Pacific island nation at risk of severe storms and rising sea levels brought on by climate change. Tuvalu is a tiny constitutional monarchy made up of nine low-lying atolls, with a total land area of 26 square kilometers and an estimated population of 9,500.
In 2001, Tuvalu won New Zealand's agreement to accept an annual quota of its citizens as refugees after being rejected by the government of Australia. New Zealand has agreed to accept Tuvaluans at the rate of 75 families per year. The two governments expect the refugee arrangement to operate for the next 30 years or even longer, possibly until 2050. [Environment News Service, 12/6/05]
Pacific Small Islands Say Their Greatest "Threat To Security Emanates From Rising Sea Levels." From a statement by the Pacific Small Island Developing States:
For the Pacific Small Island Developing States, the most fundamental threat to security emanates from rising sea levels that threaten the territorial integrity and sovereignty of PSIDS countries and lead to conflict and unrest over resources and land. Several countries are facing the danger of disappearing entirely.
Because the Pacific Islands contain a high number of low-lying atoll islands rising no more than two to three meters above sea level, they are at high risk of total submergence with sea-level rise. Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu consist exclusively of atolls.
The adverse impacts of climate change alter the physical landscape of the Pacific region. As sea level continues to rise, it will reach a point where it will eliminate whole islands and even nations. No amount of adaptation to climate change can be sufficient to prevent the loss of islands. The United Nations has defined several categories of countries facing heightened challenges, such as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island . Developing States (SIDS). However, no definition of countries facing the loss of islands exists within the UN framework.
Some islands are projected to be submerged entirely under water if the sea-level continues to rise. The loss of islands will not only result in the loss of physical territory but could also have an impact on Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and could lead to border disputes between neighboring countries. Some islands are already partially submerged and have lost land along low-lying coastal areas. For low-lying atolls, the likely impacts can be catastrophic, even requiring population evacuation to other islands or adding numbers to the Pacific Diaspora, with the subsequent social and cultural disruption having unknown proportions. In Papua New Guinea, for example, the population of the Carteret Islands is currently being relocated and the islands could be fully submerged as early as 2015. Once the islands are lost to sea-level rise, the people will never be able to return to their homelands. [Pacific Small Island Developing States, 2009]
U.S. Security Experts Concerned About Challenges Posed By Climate Change
Chairman Of Bush's National Intelligence Council Highlighted Global Warming's "Potential To Seriously Affect US National Security Interests." In June 25, 2008, testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Dr. Thomas Fingar, chairman of President Bush's National Intelligence Council, presented the Council's study titled "National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030." Fingar stated that in 2006, the Council concluded that "time was right to develop a community level product on the national security significance of future climate change." Fingar presented the following "summary of key observations":
We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for US national security interests over the next 20 years. Although the United States will be less affected and is better equipped than most nations to deal with climate change, and may even see a benefit owing to increases in agriculture productivity, infrastructure repair and replacement will be costly. We judge that the most significant impact for the United States will be indirect and result from climate-driven effects on many other countries and their potential to seriously affect US national security interests. We assess that climate change alone is unlikely to trigger state failure in any state out to 2030, but the impacts will worsen existing problems--such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions. Climate change could threaten domestic stability in some states, potentially contributing to intra- or, less likely, interstate conflict, particularly over access to increasingly scarce water resources. We judge that economic migrants will perceive additional reasons to migrate because of harsh climates, both within nations and from disadvantaged to richer countries. [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 6/25/08]
The Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) Issued A Report Concluding That Climate Change Has "Grave Implications For Our National Security." The 2007 study authored by 11 retired generals and admirals states that "[t]he nature and pace of climate changes being observed today and the consequences projected by the consensus scientific opinion are grave and pose equally grave implications for our national security." The report issued four conclusions: 1) "Projected climate change poses a serious threat to America's national security." 2) "Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world." 3) "Projected climate change will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world." 4) "Climate change, national security, and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges." [Center for Naval Analysis, 2007]
Military Reportedly Began "Studying Possible Future Impacts Of Global Warming With New Intensity" During The Bush administration. From an April 15, 2007, Washington Post article:
"The Army's former chief of staff, Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, who is one of the authors, noted he had been "a little bit of a skeptic" when the study group began meeting in September. But, after being briefed by top climate scientists and observing changes in his native New England, Sullivan said he was now convinced that global warming presents a grave challenge to the country's military preparedness.
"The trends are not good, and if I just sat around in my former life as a soldier, if I just waited around for someone to walk in and say, 'This is with a hundred percent certainty,' I'd be waiting forever," he said."
Part of the sense of urgency, the generals said in interviews last week, stems from the fact that changing climatic conditions will make it harder for weak nation-states to address their citizens' basic needs. The report notes, for example, that 40 percent of the world's population gets at least half its drinking water from the summer melt of mountain glaciers that are rapidly disappearing.
"Many developing nations do not have the government and social infrastructures in place to cope with the type of stressors that could be brought about by global climate change," the report states. "When a government can no longer deliver services to its people, ensure domestic order, and protect the nation's borders from invasion, conditions are ripe for turmoil, extremism and terrorism to fill the vacuum." [Washington Post, 4/15/07]
Department of Defense: Climate Change May Act As An Accelerant Of Instability Or Conflict." From the Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review Report, issued in February of 2010:
Climate change will affect DoD in two broad ways. First, climate change will shape the operating environment, roles, and missions that we undertake. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, composed of 13 federal agencies, reported in 2009 that climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters. Among these physical changes are increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows.
Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.
While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States and overseas. In some nations, the military is the only institution with the capacity to respond to a large-scale natural disaster. Proactive engagement with these countries can help build their capability to respond to such events. Working closely with relevant U.S. departments and agencies, DoD has undertaken environmental security cooperative initiatives with foreign militaries that represent a nonthreatening way of building trust, sharing best practices on installations management and operations, and developing response capacity. [Department of Defense, February 2010]
CIA Launched Center On Climate Change And National Security To Help Coordinate Information On What It Deems "An Important National Security Topic." In September of 2009, the CIA launched The Center on Climate Change and National Security. According to a September 25, 2009, press release, its charter is to explore "the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources." Director Leon Panetta explained that "[d]ecision makers need information and analysis on the effects climate change can have on security." [Central Intelligence Agency, 9/25/09]
Intelligence Analysts Reportedly Suggest That "The Changing Global Climate Will Pose Profound Strategic Challenges To The United States In Coming Decades." The New York Times reported on August 8, 2009, that "a growing number of policy makers say that the world's rising temperatures, surging seas and melting glaciers are a direct threat to the national interest." The Times noted that military officials are "studying ways to protect the major naval stations in Norfolk, Va., and San Diego from climate-induced rising seas and severe storms." According to Pentagon official Amanda Dory, there has been "a 'sea change' in the military's thinking about climate change in the past year. These issues now have to be included and wrestled with" in drafting national security strategy, she said." [New York Times, 8/8/09]