Slideshow From Kiribati -- Pictures of an Atoll Rising Just Above Sea Level

Originally Posted: 10/29/2012 6:36 pm on the Huffington Post

"Pictures speak louder than words, as we know the saying goes. The following slideshow from my recent trip to Kiribati highlights a fragile ecosystem on a coral atoll that rises just above sea level. The average elevation in the equatorial nation of Kiribati is just under two meters. The people of Kiribati are beautiful, hospitable, and above all else, know that their land is threatened by climate change and fear for their future."

I-Kiribati Man Wanting 'Climate Change Refugee' Status Denied by New Zealand Immigration

Originally Posted: 09/05/2012 7:57 pm on the Huffington Post

"Advocates for the victims of climate change often use the evocative terms "climate change refugee" when referring to individuals who must relocate due to climate change related impacts. Academics and those that know refugee law have appropriately criticized the use of this term, pointing out the fact that well-settled refugee law simply excludes climate change victims from its definition. Still, it is quite frequent in my line of work to hear the term climate change refugee. I have been guilty of this in the past -- it is very tempting to use the word "refugee" when advocating for those that have to move from their homes, villages, and countries through no fault of their own. I have stopped using the term, however, because, in addition to the fact that it is simply inaccurate, it also conveys a false sense of legal and international hope for the victims of climate change. If we think an international legal framework has already been carved out for these people, it provides a sense of relief that, in this case, we simply cannot have. It is dangerous to believe that there are answers and protections for these people because that is simply untrue.

This has primarily been an academic debate until now. New Zealand immigration authorities have just refused refugee status to a man from the drowning island country of Kiribati. The 36-year-old man sought refuge in New Zealand from climate change related harm, saying on his application that he fears for his children's future on the coral atolls of Kiribati, which are elevated just slightly above sea level.

The I-Kiribati man has been in New Zealand since 2004. His visa expired recently, so he sought a more permanent solution to his sense of homelessness. During my recent trip to Kiribati, many spoke of New Zealand as a back up option that they would keep in the back of their mind. However, most that I spoke with want to remain in their homeland of Kiribati for as long as they can.

New Zealand authorities cited the fact that the Refugee Convention does not mention environmental harm in their denial of his application. Further, the authorities asked the man (who still remains anonymous) if he was persecuted because of his race, religion, nationality, or his membership in a particular social group or because of political opinion. This is a requirement under the Convention, and the requirement is unmet in this case. The man fears climate change, rather than his own government, which renders him powerless when it comes to utilizing the protection of the Refugee Convention.

The government of Kiribati is actually quite active in the area of climate change related work, both domestically and internationally, making it even more difficult for this man (and others) to be considered under the Refugee Convention.

I applaud this man for his creative thinking and hope that this story gains extensive coverage. It is very important for people to realize that the Refugee Convention is simply not providing physical refuge or legal protection to climate-change victims. Unfortunately there remains a great deal of work to be done in this area.

To see pictures showing coral atoll living, visit"

-Brook Meakins

Wounds, Home Gardens, and Lively Children on a Thin, Tiny Atoll in the Pacific

Originally Posted Posted: August 24, 2012 | 4:28 PM on the Huffington Post

"Last year during a trip to the Marshall Islands, I met a man named Henry Romeu, an American coast guard who was on a mission in the Pacific Ocean. He monitored various pacific islands and their surrounding waters, monitoring fishing zone boundaries and reacting to various emergencies as they arose. As you can imagine, Mr. Romeu had interesting stories to tell, but it was one exacting comment about the power of the sea that stuck with me. With seriousness in his eyes he said "there is nothing immune to the ocean. Nothing." These words were uttered just inches from the water's edge, on an island in a country that hovers just above sea level. During my time there, residents recounted stories of flooding during particularly bad king tide storms where they fled to the tallest point on the island -- a small bridge that takes just moments to walk across. They flock there because the Mr. Romeu was correct: nothing is immune to the ocean.

The vast majority of scientists agree that as the earth heats up, which is hastened by our consumption of fossil fuels and other human activities, warming waters and melting ice will raise sea levels and kill off protective coral reefs. The impacts of climate change are felt the world over, but some of the very least immune people on the planet are those that live in the coral atoll nations of the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Maldives. These coral atolls lie only a few feet above the sea, rendering them acutely vulnerable to intensifying storm surges, spoiled or depleted fresh water reserves, food security stresses, ocean acidification, water-level rise, and the other disastrous impacts of climate change. Other countries around the world, including low-lying coastal or riverside communities in the Arctic, Caribbean, Pacific and in Bangladesh, face similar dire circumstances. Each of these communities face similar impossible questions: how do we cope with the intensifying impacts of flooding and erosion? Who pays for the increasing weather-related disasters? Where do we move if we are left with no choice but to leave our homes? Why does climate change deal its toughest blows to those that contribute to it the least?

The expert community has few answers for these novel questions. At a 2011 conference entitled "Threatened Island Nations: Legal Implications of Rising Seas and a Changing Climate" held at Columbia Law School, researchers and academics addressed these novel issues. They discussed where islanders would move, whether or not they would lose statehood status after relocation and the political turmoil that would surely follow when these Diasporas scattered around the globe. At the end of the conference, co-sponsoring representatives from the markedly vulnerable Republic of the Marshall Islands gave a rather alarming, heartfelt and sincere speech of clarification. In essence, the speech went like this: I am sorry if you have misunderstood, but we have not given up yet. We are staying on our islands and will fight for our home until the bitter end.

We have watched in horror and offered support to those that have suffered in recent tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods. These are appropriate human responses to events that humans ostensibly have done nothing to bring about. Yet we seem to care very little for those around the globe that are threatened with what some call the "slow moving tsunami," despite the fact that our action and inaction tragically hasten the submersion of land mass, societies and culture. I have had the incredible good fortune to walk among many of these people on their drowning islands, and I am continually struck by their lack of blame and their sense of hope. They do not point fingers at Westerners, asking why we continue emitting while we have been told that we are warming the earth and hastening sea level rise. They do not talk of relocation funds or lawsuits. Instead, they simply want to share their stories and the appreciation they have for the land they inherited. They gently remind me that this is not just an island problem, but a global issue, as nothing is immune to the ocean."

-Brook Meakins

Arriving In Tuvalu

Originally Posted: 08/22/2012 7:00 am on the Huffington Post

"Today I boarded a plane in a crowded, small airport in Suva, Fiji to head to the tiny crescent shaped island of Tuvalu in the South Pacific. I stood in line for hours among eager and jovial Tuvaluans and a few pasty white tourists with sun-hats and flashy Japanese cameras in tow.

I undoubtedly fall into the latter category and I was already asking questions of anyone who seemed ready to talk. It turns out we were on a flight that was practically filled with Tuvaluans who were returning home from a medical mission to Fiji -- these were Tuvaluans who needed medical treatment that the small hospital in Tuvalu was not able to provide. Some were traveling back home healed, others were not so fortunate. A 16-year-old boy, tragically, was not making the trip back at all. He passed away in the Fijian hospital. I learned that he was a burn victim and my heart went out to his family for their loss. I wanted to know more about the situation but did not want to ask questions given the emotional state in the airport. Suffice it to say that some in the airport were distraught, while others were very eager to return home.

Our small plane flew over Fiji's tropical, mountainous, bountiful islands on our journey to the much less bountiful, nearly flat island country of Tuvalu. Before long the atoll was in sight, with its sliver-sized coral "earth" popping out of the sea. Many pictures later, and we touched down - rocked down, more accurately - on the short runway. Practically every Tuvaluan and their dog greeted us at the airport. It turns out that plane landings are a major event on the island.

I was greeted warmly and enthusiastically. After a particularly non-formal process of getting my passport stamped, I walked the approximately 100 feet to my hotel, ready to explore this little slice of geological, geographical wonder that is known as Tuvalu.

To see pics from the start of this Tuvalu trip visit visit our Facebook page."

-Brook Meakins