It's easy to say there's no scientific consensus on climate change when it's not your home that's in jeopardy. Even though the United States isn't going to be swallowed by rising sea levels (well, not exactly true when you consider Kivalina, Alaska), the country as a whole isn't at risk of nonexistence. We may lose a few states and a few stars on a flag, but America itself will still be around. However, the same can't be said for many other countries, particularly island nations, where rising sea levels are forcing populations to evacuate within the next 10 to 100 years, if not tomorrow. Below are five countries that could disappear from the face of the Earth, literally, because of climate change:
Rising sea levels don't just cover low-lying atolls like the 23 that make up the Republic of Kiribati. Rising sea levels also flood homes, kill crops, and ruin freshwater sources, and it's these problems that are forcing the population of 102,000 to consider emigration as the alternative. Currently, the main solution under consideration is to move to Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island, as President Anote Tong projects that the country may be inhabitable by 2050. The church group that owns the land has offered it to President Tong for $9.6 million, and the president will purchase the land for food security first. Eventually, the land will be used as the permanent home for the population.
Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, gives his grandchildren a 50-50 shot at inheriting an inhabitable country. Those odds aren't the best considering that Nasheed has children, but not grandchildren. Unfortunately, the Maldives isn't as easy to save as Kiribati, as the country has four times the population (spread over several hundred islands) and many more competing interests in how to save it and in what to keep alive. There's an interest in solar energy, but a lack of capital and expertise to execute that plan even though the country's dependence on diesel is bankrupting the country. There are many international investments into the tourism industry, but the industry also puts a huge strain on the remaining land and resources. The fishing industry is vibrant, but also threatened by the tourists who visit to eat the catch. Nasheed maintains that if the Maldives can't be saved, then coastal cities such as Tokyo and New Orleans are doomed as well, as a three-foot increase in sea levels is enough to submerge much of the entire country.
Unfortunately for Kiribati, Fiji may be just another temporary solution that buys time, as Fiji is also threatened by climate change and without a solution (although one is being finalized). Although Fiji's larger islands have mountains as high as 4,000 feet about sea level, the country isn't just worried about the rising sea levels. Fiji is much more concerned about natural disasters that destroy homes and flood communities, leaving this already-fragile population more susceptible to water-borne and nutrition-related illnesses. Coastal and beach erosion also affect the nearly 900,000 people who live here, where saline intrusion into mangroves and freshwater will only make it harder for people to overcome the diseases and to survive on the land.
Republic of Cape Verde
Not every island nation threatened by climate change is in the Pacific or Indian Oceans! The Republic of Cape Verde is off the western coast of Africa and its 10 volcanic islands are at risk of both drought and extreme flooding. Despite its name, Cape Verde is a dry country with only a few rainy days each year. Climate change exacerbates freshwater resources (half of the country already lacks access to a public water supply), like it's doing in many other countries, while rising sea levels encroach the coastline and severe storms leave the country's half a million people vulnerable to flooding. And, they are vulnerable, as 80% of the population lives along the coast. Poor countries like the Republic of Cape Verde are the most likely to be hit by climate change, and if they are hit, they will suffer the most.
Federated States of Micronesia
A three-foot rise in sea level may submerge the Maldives, but that same sea level rise will render much of the Federated States of Micronesia uninhabitable. Even though this rise is projected to take place over the course of the next 90 years, countries like Micronesia are already seeing their homelands eroded away. Three feet is a lot for island nations that are only several feet above sea level. For example, cemeteries have been taken by the sea. and many islands are now just a beach as the tide touches the roots of coconut trees. Sea walls may be an option for some places, but the Federated States of Micronesia includes over 600 islands, and many of these islands are small atolls where a sea wall won't make a difference.