Climate Change Could Displace Half a Million Atoll Residents Within Decades
A new study published in Science Advances Wednesday has bad news for the residents of low-lying atolls: If current greenhouse gas emission rates continue, climate change will render most of these islands uninhabitable by mid-century, not by the end of the century as previously believed.
The dramatic difference between these and previous findings is because previous studies only looked at sea level rise.
However, this study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Deltares, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, also looked at the impact of flooding from "wave overwash" when waves from storms wash over the islands. The scientists found that this flooding would pose a serious threat to the islands' supply of fresh drinking water, rendering it non-potable between 2030 and 2060 and forcing residents to leave.
"The tipping point when potable groundwater on the majority of atoll islands will be unavailable is projected to be reached no later than the middle of the 21st century," lead author and USGS geologist Curt Storlazzi said in a USGS press release.
Overwash flooding will also impact infrastructure and wildlife habitats, but the danger it poses to drinking water is especially severe.
"The overwash events generally result in salty ocean water seeping into the ground and contaminating the freshwater aquifer. Rainfall later in the year is not enough to flush out the saltwater and refresh the island's water supply before the next year's storms arrive repeating the overwash events," USGS hydrologist and study author Stephen Gingerich explained in the release.
For this study, the researchers looked at Roi-Namur Island on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. However, they said their findings would apply to atolls worldwide, which have similar shapes and lower average elevations. These include the more than 1,100 low-lying islands on 29 atolls in the Marshall Islands and atolls in the Caroline Islands, Cook Islands, Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Society Islands, Spratly Islands, Maldives, Seychelles and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Most atolls are located in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
A study published Tuesday found that climate change had not been the driving force behind the past 50 years of forced displacement in East Africa.
But the atoll study is one of many that points to a looming crisis of global displacement that will come sooner than expected if the world doesn't act quickly to reduce emissions and curb climate change.
"Millions of people are going to be at risk from extreme heat, extreme water shortages and flooding as well as sea level rises ... we are talking about something that is going to play a huge role in the years ahead in terms of forcing people to leave their homes," Dina Ionesco of the International Organization for Migration told The Guardian.
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jake Johnson
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Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.
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