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Losing ground? Tuvalu, the greenhouse effect and the garbage can

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Greenhouse-induced sea-level rise (SLR) threatens coral atolls and particularly the few atoll states, such as Tuvalu. This central Pacific island microstate has minimal economic development options, and has increasingly perceived emigration and remittances as a development strategy, despite restricted opportunities. Internal migration, in search of wage employment, has brought almost half the national population to Funafuti atoll, with negative local environmental consequences. Short-term scientific data show no evidence of SLR in Tuvalu, but the Government of Tuvalu has argued that there is visual evidence of SLR, through such consequences as increased erosion, flooding and salinity. Global media have increasingly emphasised a doomsday scenario, with Tuvalu as synecdoche and symbol of all threatened island environments. Environmental problems of diverse origin have been entirely attributed to distant processes causing SLR, in terms of ‘garbage can anarchy’ or a ‘conspiracy narrative’, and thus to distant causes. The Tuvalu Government has consequently sought compensation from, and migration opportunities in, distant states. The construction of apparently imminent hazard has potential domestic political and economic advantages, but environmental costs.

Keywords: Pacific; Tuvalu; economic development; greenhouse effect; media; migration

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Sydney, Australia

Publication date: August 1, 2003


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