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Global warming, rising tides, and cultural genocide.

Among all the speeches and pontificating at the Kyoto Climate Summit, the following statement stood out for its poignancy and power. It was delivered by Kinza Clodumar, President of the Republic of Nauru -- immediately prior to Vice President Al Gore's address. While Gore's statement was amplified worldwide by the international media, President Clodumar's contains far more serious truths which deserve consideration by people everywhere.

For more than 5,000 years, my people have inhabited what the ancient mariners called "Pleasant Island." Rainforest once bounded on Nauru, anchored by the Tomano tree and decorated by hanging orchids. Hundreds of bird species, including our treasured Noddy bird, made Nauru their home.

But the Twentieth Century has not been gentle with our island. First we lost our land: Eighty percent of my country has been destroyed by phosphate mining initiated has been paid, in place of the green rainforest there are now gray tombstones of fossilized coral that remain after the phosphate was removed. My people have been confined to the narrow coastal fringe that separates this wasteland from out mother, the sea.

And now we face a new threat. The emission of greenhouse gases in distant lands is warming the Earth and causing the sea level to rise. The coastal fringe where my people live is but two meters [[+ or -] 6 feet] above the sea surface. We are trapped -- a wasteland at out back, and to our front a terrifying, rising flood of biblical proportions.

Our plight is not unique. In the Pacific alone, four other island countries face destruction unless global warming is arrested. Our island brothers and sisters in Caribbean, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans face the same desperate plight. Throughout the world, the story is the same; island countries are on the front lines of the global climate catastrophe. Indeed, all countries with low-lying coastal areas share our vulnerability to the rising sea...

We submit, respectfully, that the willfully destruction of entire countries and cultures with foreknowlede would represent an unspeakable crime against humanity. No nation has the right to place its own misconstrued national interest before the physical and cultural survival of whole countries. The crime is cultural genocide. It must not be tolerated by the family of nations. The crime is no less when it is perpetuate slowly by the emission of invisible gases...

My plea s not merely an urgent request on behalf of island nations and cultures; it is also a heartfelt warning to the entire family of nations. Small island States provide not only a morel compass; we are also a barometer of broader visitations wisely heeded by all.

Unchecked climate change would cause untold human and ecological misery not just in our remote island countries, but everywhere on Earth. Already drought has afflicted much of the world of late and has caused raging brush fires. Recent studies by the World Resources Institute and the US Environmental Protection Agency project nearly a million deaths a year from the pollution coupled with greenhouse gas emission, mainly in developing countries.

...Island countries are the microcosm of which all other countries are the macrocosm. Unchecked climate change promises not only our destruction, but pestilence, disease and famine everywhere on Earth -- for all living things. These are the certain bitter fruits of inaction on our part of Kyoto...

Let us create a Kyoto Protocol that we can show proudly to our children. Let us take action -- effective action, prompt action here in Kyoto, without reservation, without delay, for now and forever.

RELATED ARTICLE: The 1998 Goldman Award Winner

San Francisco -- The winners of the ninth annual Goldman Prize were announce on April 20. This year's six winners, representing each of the five continents and the island nations, are:

Africa (South Africa) -- Sven "Bobby" Peek grew up next to a refinery that poured 60 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air each day. Now a tireles champion of environment justice, Peek united his racially divided community behind a successful campaign to close an illegal toxic dump in his neighborhood.

Asia (Japan) -- Hirofumi Yamashita has devoted more than a quarter of a century to fighting a land reclamation project that threatens Isahaya Bay, one of the richest wetlands on Earth. Yamashita is now leading a crusade to remove the gargantuan metal dike that has cut off the wetlands from the bay waters.

Europe (Italy) -- Anna Maria Giordano launched a campaign to save migrating birds from Sicily's sport hunters and game poachers. Despite death threats and the firebombing of her car, Giordano refused to back down. Thanks to her perseverance, the number of birds killed during the spring migration has dropped significantly.

Island Nations (Dominica) -- Atherton Martin's international organizing skills stopped a foreign-owned copper mine that would have devastated ten percent of Dominica's tropical rainforests. Thanks to Martin's efforts, Dominica is still "the Nature Island."

North America (US) -- Kory Johnson founded Children for a Safe Environment when she was mine. She organized a youth campaign that helped stop an incinerator in Phoenix, Arizona and has led efforts to combat health threats to children in low-income communities.

South America (Colombia) -- Berito Kuwaru'wa is campaigning to block multinational oil companies from drilling in the homeland of the U'wa. Kuwar and 5,000 other U'wa have pledged to commit mass suicide if the drilling proceeds.

For more information: The Goldman Environmental Prize, 1 Lombard St., San Francisco, CA 94111, (415) 788-9090,
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Clodumar, Kinza
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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