Norway July 2014. Heat waves and tropical nights. Countless heat records. Social media over-flooded with beach pictures. 25 degrees in the ocean. Finally a real summer after years of rain and misery. On the opposite side of the globe islanders look concerned at the ocean. The ocean which for generations had given life, was now taking life. Two of the nation’s islands were swallowed by the sea in 1999, now the ocean had started at the other islands. When the water level rise 7 feet more the nation will vanish. Kiribati, the little paradise in the Pacific Ocean is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to global warming. Kiribati, April 2014

Ben, owner of  Lagoon Breeze Lodge, don't understand why I ask if it's a part-time job, after telling me about his 4 guest in 2013

Ben, owner of Lagoon Breeze Lodge, don’t understand why I ask if it’s a part-time job, after telling me about his 4 guest in 2013

The island nobody could believe that anyone would visit
She jumps. Looking bewildered at me. Do not know what to do. Wants to get away. Moving in quick steps. I can not stop her. Gone. Feel like a burglar surprised by the daughter of the house. The problem is that she is the receptionist at the favourite hotel to Lonely Planet and I’m a guest arrived around lunchtime. Welcome to Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean, the world’s 3rd least visited countries and hotel «Blue Breeze Lodge», which had a total of 4 guests in 2013.

– Are you a tourist? asked the lady on the bus thrilled. I was the first tourist she had met and we were on the way to the capital Tarawa. The follow-up question I often heard: – Why did you come here? I had read about Kiribati, but had no good answer, except that I was exploring all the countries in the Pacific.

The airport in Kiribati, where you will not be greeted by pushy taxi drivers or ATMs

The airport in Kiribati, where you will not be greeted by pushy taxi drivers or ATMs

I arrived at the airport an hour earlier. An interesting experience. It resembled a small, spartan church and there were no taxis there or in the country for that matter. Reckless drivers in mini-vans were the option, but they did not take foreign currency and there was no ATM at the airport.

The experience from the airport turned out to be representative for the stay. A non-existent infrastructure for tourism. Attractive on expeditions in the Amazon, but when you are sweating with a heavy backpack on an unfamiliar airport with no taxi nor local currency the scenario seemed as appealing as going to a children’s birthday party with a tequila hangover.

The art of doing nothing
Kiribati is an interesting place and without any empirical analysis, I will argue that the citizens must be among the world’s best at doing nothing. Everywhere folk and fairy practiced the art of doing nothing. Humans and pigs were scattered over lawns, hammocks or on the road sleeping.

A pig perfecting the art of doing nothing

A pig perfecting the art of doing nothing

Day two I saw a person who had a watch. Interesting. The next person I talked to, I asked how she could keep appointments without a watch: «Well, if we agreement to meet at 13.00, both parties are normally delayed, but not more than an hour”. I gave up asking the obvious follow-up question.

A visit to the nation “tourist office» was a waste of time and quickly realized that my best guide was worn-out tourist brochure at the hotel. The nation’s top five attractions contained wonders as a decaying machine gun position and a rusty tanks that were flooded on the beach.

South Tarawa, the most populated part of Kiribati had a few beaches, but here you could not swim. A «sewer system» that flowed into the sea provided a bacterial flora with lots of wonderful e-coli. There were however several nice beaches in the northern part of Tarawa and other islands.

Fantastic lagoon full of lovely e-coli

Fantastic lagoon full of lovely e-coli

I slowly acknowledged defeat, capitulated and adopted the local customs. I started to do nothing. As in no-wifi-nothing.

The days in the paradise were numbered
No rules without exceptions. One area in which the nation had not been idle was within global warming. As one of the world’s most vulnerable countries Kiribati has actively participated in international forums such as the UNFCCC and OASIS. In 2009, President Tong participated in the Climate Vulnerable Forum in the Maldives, with 10 other similar countries and signed The Bandos Island Decleration, where they appealed to higher moral management and green initiatives to ensure carbon neutrality.

President Tong admitted sadly recently that rising sea level is inevitable and that the nation must migrate to survive. The ocean swallowed two of Kiribati’s islands in 1999 and is still hungry.

This global warming
The term has been one of the big buzz words in recent times and says something about the increase in air and ocean temperatures at global level from the mid 1900s to the present and forecasts. The most important tool is climate models, which consists of many smaller models for different parts of the earth, like an ocean model, which calculates the temperature, salt concentration and ocean currents, models of ice and glacier, model for the transfer of heat and moisture from the soil to the atmosphere, etc.

So what is today’s conclusions? UN’s IPCC stated in 2007 in its 4th assessment report:
1) It is highly probable (+90 percent) that the temperature increase is due to human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
2) It is probable (66 percent) that the Earth’s temperature will increase by 1.1 to 6.4°C in the 2000s.
3) The consequences of the increase will be a rising sea-level (1.8 mm / year).
4) Negative changes in crops, which will affect food prices and availability
5) More extreme weather due to increased thermal energy contained in the atmosphere, which gives stronger winds, rainfall and storm frequency, which will result in more natural disasters such as landslides and floods.
6) desertification is increasing, sea and glacial ice and permafrost reduced, species will perish, etc.
7) The human contribution, particular CO2 emissions, should be limited

Rock stars and bad protocols
An educated buddy of mine is skeptical to the debate and think it is a scam, where «unemployed» scientists became rock stars overnight with lots of funds. If they are enjoying a status as rock stars are debatable, but some circuits have raised doubts about the content, especially in the political and economic as well as some scientific communities. The main doubts are:

1) Disagreement on the relationship between global warming and human activity, although most climate skeptics accept a slight correlation.
2) The climate policy measures are can not justify the costs and the goal of 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 is unrealistic, as the UN believes 18 percent comes from the agricultural sector.
3) The expected temperature increase due to increased CO2 emissions (the model forecasts)

As an economist, I like to follow the money trail and know the skeptics also have mucho dinero. The world’s largest economy, the United States refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. According to George Bush it was a «bad deal for the American economy.» There are strong incentives to cast doubt on current research. When India and China are included in the agreement in the future, they will have similar incentives. Fortunately Russia signed in 2004, and consequently the protocol secured the majority to be ratified. Russia vs. USA (1-0)!

The agreement expired in 2012 and after failed attempts in Copenhagen (2009), Cancun (2010) and Durban (2011), an agreement to extend the protocol to 2020 was reached in Doha (2012). The protocol demands for 5.2 per cent reduction in emissions is however far from sufficient to prevent dangerous human-induced climate change, it is claimed.

One of the top 5 attractions. A partly flooded tank barely visible from the beach

One of the top 5 attractions. A partly flooded tank barely visible from the beach

Truth is an unattainable luxury
Reputable scientists disagree. The philosophy says there are no objective truths and believe a 100 percent verified environmental analysis is an utopia. But while we debate, the sea continue to eat the islands in the Pacific, 6.4 million tons of garbage annually ends up in the oceans, extreme weather rages, Norwegians enjoying record hot summers, the polar bears’ environment melts, 10-150 species are being extinct daily and half the world’s species can disappear in 50 years.

I feel the debate is a bit like lots of ants in an anthill looking at a boulder rolling towards them and they use their energy to argue whether they caused it or whether they can afford the measures. My thought is simple, can we afford not to? Let the doubt for once benefit the nature….

 

President Tong (in the midle of the picture) sat on your airplay, probably on his way to an important conference to talk about his sick mother or sinking nation

President Tong (in the midle of the picture) sat on your airplay, probably on his way to an important conference to talk about his sick mother or sinking nation

 

Nice grocery store without employees or customers

Nice grocery store without employees or customers