Thursday, July 4, 2019

Climate change and Guam

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image, Typhoon Yutu



The Marshall Islands may become uninhabitable as early as 2030. It won't take much. A 3 foot sea level rise may force a wholesale relocation. This is bad for Guam as well. Much of Guam's development is in areas not much higher than the Marshall Islands. It's not the only problem.

Rising water temperatures will amplify typhoons. Super Typhoon Yutu intensified from a tropical storm to a category 5 storm in two days.  That's an increase from about 50 mph to 180 mph. Average water temperatures around Guam have risen more than 1 degree over the last century, reports the EPA. Heat is energy. As sea levels rise, and water gets warmer, Guam's vulnerability to massive storm surges increases.

Warming waters and changing pH levels from increasing carbon emissions will kill coral reefs, and probably Guam's tourism industry. Much, however, remains unknown.

There aren't good, firm estimates about how climate change will impact Guam. There's no roadmap that says what will happen in any given year.  But nothing good will happen from climate change.

Unlike the Marshall Islands, Guam's higher elevations will keep it on the maps should sea levels rise 10, 20, 30 feet or more. But Guam faces enormous challenges from climate change that may impact critical infrastructure, especially its fresh water lens and sanitation systems.

Guam's independence discussion ends


Guam has yet to discuss how its climate change future impacts its political future. It ought to be the key issue in the island's self-determination discussion, but it isn't. There's a disconnect and it's not surprising. 

Guam has a stable climate. It's average annual temperatures stay within a relatively narrow band. The rainfall patterns remain predictable. The Marshall Islands problem seems distant. There may be concern about more Yutu-type storms, but Guam is built, to a point, for storm resilience. 

But if mankind fails to quickly address climate change, the people of Guam have no future on the island. It may be getting too late already. No matter what action is taken, the Marshall Islands are lost. This also means that Guam's lower elevation areas will be impacted by rising seas.

Marshall Island residents have, under their compacts, the right to work and study in the U.S. with little restriction. It isn't permanent residency, but it ought to be a path for them. For Guam, the safest political status option is one that maintains U.S. citizenship. 

There are compelling arguments for Guam to pursue separation from the U.S. One leading advocate, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, has argued powerfully for decolonization and independence.

Far from being terrifying, independence for colonized people is a normal and standard course. Billions of people in the world today do not live in terror since they are independent countries. It only feels that way in Guam, because people have accepted certain myths and misunderstandings about the status.
But the decolonization argument is not independent of climate change. Climate change is our new history: Past, present and future. It is an existential threat to the survival of humanity. Everything that we have accomplish and everything that we may accomplish is at risk.

Guam needs to consider the possibility that one day the island may be abandoned.

Suggested reading: 


How climate change is making hurricanes more dangerous. Yale Climate Connections.

Here’s why hurricanes are rapidly exploding in strength. Washington Post.


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