First Official Climate Change Refugees Evacuate Their Island Homes for Good

Update: Please note that this story is from 2009. For more recent news & articles, follow us on Facebook. Thank you!

The day has finally come, and a critical landmark in the saga of global climate change is occurring as we speak—and hardly anyone has noticed. The Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea have become the world's first entire community to be displaced by climate change. They're the first official refugees of global warming--and they're packing up their lives to move out of the way of ever-rising waters that threaten to overtake their homes and crops. The island they call home will be completely underwater by 2015. This story first broke a couple years ago, when it was first suggested that these islanders could become climate change refugees. But now that it's actually happening--seems no one's paying attention. And though the scenario isn't as apocalyptic as some might imagine, life for the islanders has indeed all but become impossible on the Cartarets:

On the Carterets, king tides have washed away their crops and rising sea levels poisoned those that remain with salt. The people have been forced to move.

That report comes from the Ecologist, one of only a handful of media outlets to cover the story, and the only one to have a reporter on hand to witness the evacuation. This is what he saw when he arrived on the scene:

The men climbed silently from the boat and into the shallows. They splashed towards us, carrying almost nothing. From beside me, others who had come to meet them walked out quietly in welcome. The air was still, both sad and happy, which seemed to suit the moment. That single boat carrying these five men is the first wave in what is, as far as I can tell, the world’s first official evacuation of an entire people because of climate change.

Thus begins an unfortunate exodus, however small, of a people whose lives have been directly threatened by climate change. And though the entire community appears only to be comprised of 40 large families (around 2,000 people), the loss of their homes and way of life is still a tragic occurrence. The displaced villagers are already at work building new homes near a village on another larger island, on higher ground.

And this is certain to be merely the first such community to be forced into such action—with sea levels continuing their steady rise, and a distinct lack of meaningful action from governments of rich, polluting nations, more helpless communities are sure to be displaced.

Though some would blame the islands' sinking on shifting tectonic plates, Australia's National Tide Facility has measured an annual rise of 8.2 mm in sea level on the islands in every year they've monitored—which, coupled with climate change's propensity towards making weather patterns more severe, places climate change as at least a major contributor to the island's submersion. We should get a camera crew down there—give some hard, undeniable evidence to the remaining climate change deniers: this is what can happen. And this is what will happen, eventually, to us too.

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