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The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 291-293

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Media Review

Rising Waters: Global Warming and the Fate of the Pacific Islands

Rising Waters: Global Warming and the Fate of the Pacific Islands. 57 minutes, VHS, color, 2000. Director: Andrea Torrice. Producer: Andrea Torrice in association with the Independent Television Service and Pacific Islanders in Communications. Distributor: Bullfrog Films. US$250.

In an introductory clip a Marshall Islander comments, "It is very difficult for someone living in the United States to grasp the fact that if the sea level rises just a few feet our whole nation will disappear." This comment, and the timing of the video's release, leave little room for doubt why the video was produced and who is the principal target audience--the American public and, especially, its negotiators at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in the Hague late last year.

However, despite this and many other efforts to raise public and political awareness in advance of that meeting, no accord was reached. The same incredulity and despondency the video depicts was generated following the negotiations the previous year in Bonn, in stark contrast to the optimism portrayed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio and the subsequent backslapping and hugging of the world leaders after agreeing in principal to the Kyoto Protocol. Vice President Gore's words at Kyoto were uncannily prophetic when he saw the challenge "to do what we promise, rather than promise what we cannot do." What will the United States promise, and when? The United States and a handful of other key countries are reluctant to promise even a 5.2 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010. This is trifling in climate-change terms, given studies that show the target should be at least 60 percent.

Rising Waters makes other comparisons, invariably to great effect. One of the most poignant is the depiction of the United States as the country that forced Marshall Islanders to abandon their home islands to allow nuclear testing, the country that emits the most greenhouse gases, and the country that is preventing the Kyoto Protocol from coming into force. Another is the contrast between the values of residents of Manhattan and those of Samoans--importantly, both live on islands, but while one cherishes their traditional heritage and ties to the ocean, the other looks landward and is preoccupied with economic growth. Their common ground is that both will suffer serious consequences from rising sea level and increased storminess--demonstrated convincingly through images of a flooded New York subway from a storm in 1992 and of Samoa devastated by a hurricane a year earlier. The contrast is in the ability to replace what is lost and to cope with the future--raising the sea walls is portrayed as a viable option for Manhattan, but forced retreat and eventual migration may be the future for many Pacific Islanders.

The video takes a more mature [End Page 291] approach than many of its predecessors--for example, and atypically, it acknowledges that "development" should share the blame for problems so often attributed solely to climate variability and change. According to a local official, Majuro has lost "dozens of feet of shoreline... unregulated development contributed to the damage, but unusual storms and sweeping high tides are thought to be the main cause of the erosion." Few viewers will take comfort from the images of garbage imported from the United States, or coral dug from the lagoon being used for coastal protection--that "constantly needs replacing"--or from officials claiming that building and maintaining sea walls around Majuro will cost more than the annual budget for the Marshall Islands.

The video is correct in depicting many of the island problems as consistent with the impacts of climate change--a conclusion in keeping with that in the recently released Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, credibility is stretched at times, more through implication than explicit attribution--an example being the loss of the...


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