- Five Takes on Climate and Cultural Change in Tuvalu
Tuvalu has come to epitomize the approaching environmental catastrophe of worldwide climate change andsea-level rise. This is a somewhat ironic fact, since its population of under twelve thousand is dwarfed by the millions of other people who also stand to be displaced from their homelands in the next century. Nonetheless, Tuvalu's iconic role as "poster child" for encroaching global disaster is well established by the ﬁve ﬁlms reviewed here, all of which have been produced in the last ﬁve years. A steady stream of newspaper stories and magazine articles has also depicted the "sinking," "drowning," or "disappearing" of Tuvalu under "rising waters." (A slightly earlier ﬁlm, Rising Waters: Global Warming and the Fate of the Paciﬁc Islands , focused particularly on Sämoa, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands, and was reviewed by John Hay in The Contemporary Paciﬁc 14:291–293.)
Media attraction to Tuvalu as an appealing victim of global warming is understandable. Composed of nine atolls and reef islands, Tuvalu has a land area of just twenty-six square kilometers (the fourth smallest country in the world, about half the size ofManhattan Island) and a resident population of some 11,600 people. It is isolated, photogenic, culturally distinct, an independent nation since 1978, and a member of the United Nations since 2000. Tuvalu has also taken a leadership role in discussions of global climate change, seeking to [End Page 294] raise public awareness through speeches in the United Nations, leadership in regional organizations, and high-proﬁle participation in global policy conferences. Tuvaluan leaders are demanding that the wider world acknowledge the fact of global climate change, accept responsibility forthe rising sea levels and altered weather patterns that Tuvalu is experiencing, and do something about them.
If climate change trends continue, Tuvalu could become uninhabitable within the next half century, perhaps the ﬁrst nation of environmental refugees. These ﬁve ﬁlms all document that grim reality, providing compelling images of the local lifestyle, environmental changes, and individuals' responses, while raising important ethical and practical questions for viewers. They also all focus on urban Funafuti, Tuvalu's capital, where half the population now lives. This choice inevitably simpliﬁes and masks some aspects of Tuvalu life because outer island communities still remain the real homeland for most Tuvaluans, and the essence of what will be lost should Tuvalu succumb to "rising waters." Each ﬁlm uses a distinctive mix of techniques, sound, story line, and content to represent Tuvalu's situation. They share signiﬁcant commonalities, yet ultimately tell very different stories.
The Disappearing of Tuvalu: Trouble in Paradise
This French-American coproduction isthe longest and most detailed of the ﬁlms. Its opening scenes of rush-hour freeway trafﬁc and suburban sprawl in Southern California effectively link Tuvalu's "trouble," and its possible future disappearance, with lifestyles in larger industrialized countries. These connections are deepened when the British-accented narrator expresses feelings that many viewers can easily share: modern life involves...