Over the past century activities such as deforestation, the of burning fossil fuels and rampant production of livestock have released substantial amounts of heat-trapping, greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is well known that this excess of greenhouse gases are causing the earth’s temperature to rise. As the planet warms, more energy is released into the climate system which is causing regular patterns to change and we are seeing an increase in unpredictable and severe weather conditions – just take a look at California’s drought!

Scientists have come to the consensus that climate change is the direct result of human interference with the earth’s natural systems, be it in the form of burning fossil fuels or deforestation. Although we often hear about climate change on the news the reports are often saturated with debate over the prevailing causes of climate change rather than focusing on what measures need to be taken to stop it. As Green Monsters, we know there are many things we can do in our everyday lives to minimize our own impact on the planet, and as we learn more about the wide sweeping effects of climate change it becomes even more apparent that our action is more needed than ever.

The coverage of the impact of climate change has been largely relegated to animal species, but people are being negatively affected by climate change as well.

Small island nations are some of the most at risk and least recognized when it comes to those impacted by climate change. Since 1955 the oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the earth’s extra heat. With the warming of our oceans we’ve seen an increase in thermal expansion as well as melting of polar ice caps and glaciers – ultimately leading to a rise in the ocean levels. Islands that sit only a meter or two above sea level are especially vulnerable. As sea levels continue to rise more and more people are becoming climate refuges, forced to leave their homes and find a new livelihood. As climate change progresses, it is expected that many island nations will be completely submerged and lost forever.

Today we want to bring your attention to these islands and the people who call them home.

1. Carteret Islands

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Telim Tor / Wikimedia Commons

This year the people of the Carteret Islands of Papa New Guinea became the first ever climate change refugees after they were displaced due to rising sea levels (as well as a shift in tectonic plates). The people of Carteret lived their lives mostly free of automobiles and only used only minimal electricity. Their collective carbon footprint was practically nonexistent. This was a population that lived off of the crops they grew, and were forced to relocate to the island of Bougainville after years of salt water inundated their crops and infiltrated the fresh water wells. While the people of Carteret may have found safety on a new island, scientists believe their native islands will be uninhabitable by 2015 and all islands will be completely submerged by 2020.

2.Torres Strait Islands

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Mark Roy / Flickr

The Torres Strait Islands are situated between Australia and Papa New Guinea. The 6,700 people inhabiting the 100+ islands are in danger of becoming the first Australian climate change refugees. In February of this year the Australian Government confirmed it would invest $12 million to build a sea wall to protect six of the low-lying islands from king tides and costal erosion that have already displaced families and damaged infrastructures. Despite securing the funds for the sea wall, construction has been delayed repeatedly.

3. The Federated States of Micronesia

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Joshua Valcarcel / Wikimedia Commons

The Federated States of Micronesia is comprised of 607 islands scattered throughout the western Pacific Ocean. They, like many pacific islanders, have felt the devastating effects of climate change. Home to over 100,000 people, the sea level of Micronesian islands has risen 10mm every year, three times more than the global average. The rising seas have eroded away land and damaged villages. Last year the Federated States of Micronesia passed the climate change law that would require all state sectors to augment future policies by developing specific climate change action plans.

4. Kiribati

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade / Flickr

Kiribati is a small island nation south of Hawaii. Home to just over 100,000 people, the island sits just two meters above sea level. In September of this year President Anote Tong purchased land in Fiji to secure a new home that would be able to feed and house his people in the event that they are displaced due to rising sea levels. For now, the land will be used for agricultural needs and fish-farming to assure the people of Kiribati will have enough food to sustain them.

5. The Marshall Islands

Stefan Lins / Flickr

The Marshall Islands lie in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and already many residents have begun to relocate due to the rising sea level. Tony deBrum, the Foreign Minister for the Marshall Islands, has stated that the displacement has been a hard one for some of the islanders who are attached to their home and the culture and traditions that come with it. The wall shielding the airport from saltwater has been breached and even some graveyards have begun to disappear after the encroaching salt water eroded away the land. In early October some schools of the Marshall Islands were closed for upwards of a week due to a lack of drinking water after salt water infiltrated their wells. Sadly, for many, relocation is the only remedy; but deBrum has not given up on his home yet. Last year deBrum appealed to the United Nations Security Council to argue that the climate change displacement should be treated as a security threat.

How You Can Help

For most of us climate change is personal and felt only within our own individual circumstances. Often times we don’t even think twice about how our consumption habits contribute to our carbon footprint. No matter where you live in the world climate change IS happening and it’s only a matter of time before it starts to play a pivotal role that will greatly affect our environment and our economy. The impact of our actions is being felt by these island nations and we cannot forget the role we play in their current suffering.

As Marshall Island’s Tony deBum says, “We are being put under the water by the pollution of large countries who don’t see it as their problem … [these nations] see only their development and economic progress as the reason for continuing their behavior that is causing the demise of these small island countries.

Estimates today believe that climate change could displace upwards of 200 million people by 2050, unless we start taking action now. You can help slow the progress of climate change by lowering your own impact on the planet. By and large, animal agriculture is the driving source of greenhouse gas emissions, so by lowering your consumption of animal products you can conserve precious land and water resources and keep thousands of pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere. Did you know that if you eliminated cheese from your diet you could keep 401 pounds of carbon dioxide out the atmosphere every year! Don’t ever think you can’t help make a positive impact!

Lead image source: 350.org