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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuvalu, a disappearing tropical paradise

The nation of Tuvalu is a string of low-lying islands midway between Hawaii and Australia. After the Vatican City, this remote nation of 11,600 people is the second smallest in the world. It may be a small country, but it has big problems.

Tuvalu, along with many other islands, is very vulnerable to the threats of climate change. The islands, which sit just three feet above sea level, will completely disappear as sea levels rise. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-sponsored group made up of more than 2,000 scientists, predict that global warming will cause oceans to rise as much as 3 feet in the next 50 to 100 years.

Many of the people of Tuvalu aren't waiting around to see their beloved island home slowly disappear under the waves. They are migrating to other countries like New Zealand and Australia, where life is very different for the Tuvaluans. Coming from islands with few cars and quiet communities, where knowing how to fish and climb a tree are the two most important skills for survival, the hustle and bustle of city life in their new countries is a huge cultural shock.

Immigrants from Tuvalu are part of a rapidly growing group known as "environmental refugees." According to the United Nations, there are currently more than 20 million environmental refugees worldwide, more than those displaced by war and political repression combined. By 2010 the number will grow to 50 million, and 150 million by 2050.

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