Tuvalu News

Documentaries Portray an Ailing Planet
Stephen Leahy

TORONTO, Canada, Oct (IPS) - Global warming is a life and death issue for the people of Tuvalu, as rising sea levels slowly drown their low- lying island nation in the South Pacific.

"U.S. policy (on global warming) is a slap in the face to Tuvaluans and others in low-lying countries," says the country's U.N. ambassador in the new French/U.S. documentary "Trouble in Paradise".

In less than 50 years, Tuvalu will be the world's first sovereign country to disappear beneath the waves of the Pacific, the film argues.

Global warming is literally reshaping the Earth, and documentary filmmakers are recording those changes and the impacts on people and wildlife. Three of these were recently featured at the Planet in Focus International Environmental Film Festival in Toronto.

In the British documentary "The End of The World as We Know It", presenter and writer Marcel Theroux is a young climate change sceptic who treks across the planet to discover the truth on his own. He visits the melting icecaps of Alaska, West Bengal in India, and talks to scientists, environmentalists, economists and even the ex-chairman of the British division of Shell Oil.

Seeing the evidence of climate change with his own eyes, Theroux comes to believe that the Earth is undergoing the biggest change since that last ice age. He ends up agreeing with Britain's chief scientist that global terrorism is a trivial issue compared to global warming.

Theroux also realises that modern, materialistic lifestyles are the cause of the problem. Convinced of the need to save energy and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the film documents his struggles to reduce his own personal impact.

Deciding that it is impractical if not impossible to reduce emissions 60 to 70 percent, as some scientists say is necessary, Theroux searches for energy alternatives.

Green energy sources like wind and solar are given short shrift in the film as insufficient to meet energy demands or impractical in Britain. Theroux consults with the eminent scientist Sir James Lovelock, the developer of the "Gaia theory" that the Earth is a living organism.

Surprising Theroux, Sir James passionately endorses nuclear energy as our only hope. Sir James is plainly worried there is little time left to dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions before irreversible changes occur and re-shape the Earth.

A former anti-nuclear energy protester, Theroux ruefully agrees that maybe Britain ought to start building nuclear power plants instead of mothballing the ones it still has.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the impacts of climate change in places like Alaska, the hunt for oil continues. "Oil On Ice" documents the battle being fought over oil development in the Hula Hula Arctic Refuge in Alaska. At stake is the culture and livelihood of the Gwich'in Athabascan Aboriginals, the Inupiat Inuit, and the migratory wildlife.

The film shows the impacts from existing oil development on native peoples and wildlife, and suggests it will be little different in the Arctic Refuge. Alaskan politicians and oil service companies like Halliburton strongly favour the money-making drilling, citing the U.S. energy crisis.

However, the film shows that the limited amount of oil in the Refuge will do little to ease energy security concerns. In fact, if less than one percent of U.S. cars were fuel-efficient vehicles like hybrids, there would be no need for it additional oil from the Refuge.

And finally, once the oil is extracted, oil companies can sell it to the highest bigger. Much of Alaska's oil production is sold to Asia.

While the Arctic region is changing rapidly from global warming, the slow rise of sea levels has not gone unnoticed by people living on low-lying islands. At high tide, large waves now sweep across the islands of Tuvalu, while hurricanes are battering the nation for the first time in its 4,000-year history.

With a population of about 11,000 living on a total land mass of 20 sq miles, Tuvalu is the earth's first sovereign nation. "Trouble in Paradise" shows the former British colony struggling economically while confronting the likelihood of having to evacuate their homeland within the next 50 years.

Indeed, 70 Tuvaluan environmental refugees have already been relocated to New Zealand, which has agreed to accept 75 people each year.

The film captures the unique warm-spirited, community-oriented culture of the people and their pride as a nation. It also shows how the rising waters are affecting a country less than two metres above sea level. Precious drinking water and soil is contaminated by salt water intrusion up through the porous coral rock. Vegetables and fruit trees die and more food must be imported. Beaches vanish and houses are flooded by sea water.

"Tuvaluans are modest, polite, non-confrontational and were reluctant to express their anger," said director Chris Horner.

For nearly 10 years, Tuvalu has been asking the world community to take climate change seriously. Many are shocked that nearly all powerful countries continue to put their economic success ahead of the impacts on small impoverished nations, Horner said in an interview.

At the same time, the film shows that the increasing modernisation and materialism of residents is not only contributing to the problem of global warming, but their own wastes are fouling their island paradise. While most people see advantages in being more environmentally sustainable, they are still struggling with it, he says.

"Tuvalu is a microcosm of the many issues around global warming, including our own behaviour," Horner said.

Reflecting that view, the documentary ends with this admonition: "We are all Tuvalu and the clock is ticking." (END/2005)

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