Despite a couple of natural disasters involving hurricanes, river deltas and the destruction of cities, a lot of folks on Earth have a hard time believing that rising sea levels are a problem. Those people should talk to Anote Tong, the president of the island nation of Kiribati. He's convinced his country is going to be a modern day Atlantis by the end of the century, and last week he took the opportunity to ask the international community for help finding new places to live for himself and his 97,000 compatriots as their 33 atolls vanish into the sea.
Speaking at World Environment Day last week in Wellington, New Zealand, Tong issued the most stark plea yet that humanity figure out a way to stop global warming, arguing that it may be too late to save his country, whose highest point is only 2 meters above sea level.
"I am not a scientist but what I know is that things are happening we did not experience in the past," Tong said.
"We may be beyond redemption, we may be at the point of no return where the emissions in the atmosphere will carry on to contribute to climate change to produce a sea-level change that in time our small low-lying islands will be submerged," he said.
"Villages that have been there over the decades, maybe a century, and now they have to be relocated.
"Where they have been living over the past few decades is no longer there, it is being eroded."
He said at international meetings others had argued that measures to combat climate change would hurt their countries' economic development.
"In frustration, I said, 'No, it's not an issue of economic growth, it's an issue of human survival.'"
When a hurricane strikes, it's easy to say "oh, well we're not sure if global warming made that disaster worse, or what," and then go back to arguing over whether or not cutting carbon emissions is good for the economy. But when the president of a country says "my country is dying, and my people are condemned to become refugees because of this planetary disease," it might be time to stop worrying about making a buck.