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Anote’s Ark is a beautiful movie that follows the fight of Kiribati’s president, Anote’s Tong, on behalf of his people, trying to save them from the rising sea. The movie succeeds in telling the story and in making its case without preaching or pleading. But it hides the last phase of the story: the betrayal of an entire nation, taking place right now.

It is just a hint at the end of the movie: a line of text appearing on the screen, stating that the new Kiribati President, elected in 2016, has been reversing the policies of his predecessor. Nothing more is said but, if you look at the story on the Web, you see that it is true. For instance, we read on CBS news of November 2017, that the new government,

. . . proclaims the goal of promoting tourism by attracting foreign investors to develop “5-star eco-friendly resorts that would promote world-class diving, fishing and surfing experiences” on currently uninhabited islands. It says the nation’s 20-year plan “has an ambitious aim to transform Kiribati into the Dubai or Singapore of the Pacific.”

And the new president Taneti Maamau, says that,

“. . . we don’t believe that Kiribati will sink like the Titanic ship. Our country, our beautiful lands, are created by the hands of God.”

We all know that “whom the gods would destroy they first make mad” which seems to be describing the situation in the Kiribati islands. But we also know that there is method in some madnesses, and this may be one of those cases.

I already noted the case of the government of the Maldives, which went through the same policy U-turn as in Kiribati – that is from trying to save the islands to turning them into world-class tourist resorts. I titled my piece as “Those whom the Gods would destroy, they drive toward the Seneca Cliff” noting that,

Imagine that you are part of the elite of the Maldives. And imagine that you are smart enough to understand what’s going on with the Earth’s climate. As things stand today, it is clear that it is too late to stop a burst of global warming that will push temperatures so high that nothing will save the Maldives. Maybe not next year but in a few decades, it is nearly certain. So, given the situation, what is the rational thing for you to do? Of course, it is to sell what you can sell as long as you can find a sucker who will buy. Then you can say good riddance to those who remain. What we are seeing, therefore, is a game in which someone will be left holding the short end of the dynamite stick. When the elites of the Maldives will have left for higher grounds, the poor will be stuck there. For them, the Seneca Cliff ends underwater.

Exactly the same thing seems to be going on with the Kiribati islands. You don’t have to be especially smart to understand that the rest of the world will not do anything to help the islanders. They will be left to drown while the people of the “developed” world will keep driving their SUVs. But, for those Kiribati people who have bank accounts on dry land, the road to salvation is clear.

It is, in the end, a new manifestation of what I called “The Camper’s Dilemma.” It is what happens when betrayal is judged to pay more than collaboration. In this case, overt betrayal is often preceded by a phase of active deception – it is something that governments are masters at doing with their citizens (as I argued for the case of Italy during ww2).

The cases of small islands are not isolated, only more evident than others. Look at what Donald Trump is doing: he downplays climate change in favor of economic development, just what the Kiribati’s and Maldives’ governments are doing. If the US elites have decided that there is no hope to save everyone, the logical thing for them is to move into “cheating mode” and let most people die not just by sea level rise, but by starvation, sickness, and other consequences of climate change. That gives them the time to prepare, accumulating resources for the coming emergency.

If this interpretation is correct, the elites of most of the developed world will soon follow suit in the denial of climate change. We have just to wait and see.

Note 1: The Kiribati islands, just like the Maldives, are coral islands. That gives them a certain resilience. They can cope with modest rises, but that’s not enough fo the kind of changes that we are expecting

Note 2: For a fictionalized version of this post, see “The True Story of the Fall of Troy

Note 3: I don’t mean that the elites of the world tend to get together in smoke-filled rooms where they discuss the grand plan for the extermination of the poor. I mean that there is a certain logic in a certain kind of actions and that this logic may even be followed without consciously realizing that. In other words, H.E. president Maamau may be sincerely convinced that God will save the Kiribati Islands

Ugo Bardi teaches physical chemistry at the University of Florence, in Italy. He is interested in resource depletion, system dynamics modeling, climate science and renewable energy. Contact: ugo.bardi(whirlything)unifi.it . He blogs at Cassandra’s Legacy where this article first published. 

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