- Islands at Risk? Environments, Economies and Contemporary Change by John Connell
Islands at Risk? Environments, Economies and Contemporary Change is a concise examination of the many contentious issues facing small island states (sis) across the globe. Although these geographically and historically diverse states may be difficult to categorize uniformly beyond basic geographical descriptors, John Connell’s work tackles the paradoxes of classification head-on by mapping out common sis trends (and exceptions) in migration, economic prospects, and environmental vulnerability. Noting that one is hard pressed to come by a comprehensive and fine-grained comparative analysis of many sis contemporary [End Page 593] situations, Connell describes a political ecology entangled in development, agriculture, industrialization, urbanization, migration, and climate change.
Connell’s introduction subtly argues that small island states, and notably those experiencing “development” (called small island developing states, or sids), truly appear to be at risk. These states are particularly disadvantaged in liberalized global markets, leading to unemployment and the emigration of skilled workers. In chapter 2, Connell discusses how uncertain economics often undermine political stability. The liberalization of local and regional economies, inefficient aid, and nepotism have left many small island states with malad-ministered land and ocean resources, foreign monies, under-equipped bureaucracies, and economies dependent on fluctuating global markets. Though agriculture, fishing, and other resource-extraction regimes have long sustained small island states, these sectors are quickly becoming inadequate to support local communities’ contemporary needs and desires for full incorporation in cosmopolitan lifestyles. Climate change, mismanagement of land and ocean resources, and preferences for imported foods and more socially profitable professions have made subsistence farming unattractive or in some cases impossible. Even commercial farming of cash crops is vulnerable to outcompetition by larger and better-positioned states in the global market. However, some small island states are returning to subsistence farming despite these trends, as Connell explores in chapter 3.
More typically, movement from subsistence agriculture to manufacturing or service-industry jobs such as tourism is a characteristic of modernizing economies. Tracking this in chapter 4, Connell examines tourism and remittances as significant sources of income for many small island states. sis “modernization” is further challenged by “brain drain” migration, high energy costs, few natural resources, and small economies. Migration to national centers and the more global cities of host states abroad has led to an intense period of urbanization for sis communities. Though elites are well insulated against many of the threats to quality of life and economic depression, both intra- and inter-regional mobility, too frequently and with a dark irony, can lead to a lower quality of life. For instance, jobs can be difficult to find, resulting in the erection of temporary housing areas.
The social costs of the ongoing transformations are readily visible within the larger dynamics of urbanization, which is the focus of chapter 5. Notably, what are called “structural adjustments” in the language of development are leaving many people, especially youth, under-engaged and disenfranchised. Urbanization, weak bureaucracies, and poor economic prospects are exacerbated by the mass migration of sis populations from rural to urban spaces, while, as Connell reports in chapter 6, there is also a broader trend indicating large-scale international immigration. In the Pacific, cities such as Auckland or Honolulu are becoming “centers of social change and headquarters of transnational companies” (149), and, [End Page 594] for many, sids migration has meant a steady influx of remittances that secure greater social capital for the family. Connell notes signs of migration back to small island states as well, motivated by the desire to return home, whether because of prejudice abroad, cultural revitalization, or lack of jobs. Although migration home has been looked down on in the past, attitudes toward return migration are slowly reversing. Chapter 7 examines the implications of environmental changes for small island states. Rapid climate change, especially rising temperatures and sea levels, increases the frequency and intensity of cyclones, storms, and flooding. This has led many Islanders to retreat further inland (if possible) to avoid...