KIRIBATI, a tiny UN member state, a collection of 33 islands neck-laced across the central Pacific, is in news for a quite different reason. Thirty-two of the islands are low-lying atolls; the 33rd, called Banaba, is a raised coral island that long ago was strip-mined for its seabird-guano-derived phosphates by the MNCs.
If scientists are correct, the ocean will swallow most of Kiribati soon, perhaps much sooner than the predicted time of a few decades. Water expands as it warms, and the oceans have lately received colossal quantities of melted ice. A recent study found that the oceans are absorbing heat 15 times faster than they have at any point during the past 10,000 years. Before the rising Pacific drowns these atolls, though, it will infiltrate, and irreversibly poison, their already inadequate supply of fresh water. The apocalypse could come even sooner for Kiribati if violent storms, of the sort that recently destroyed parts of the Philippines, strike its islands. The contradiction between nature and capital is intensifying day by day. For all of these reasons, the 103,000 citizens of Kiribati may soon become refugees, perhaps the first mass movement of people fleeing due to global warming rather than war or famine.