Suggestions for the Legacy of the Marshall Islands


The Marshall Islands, in the western Pacific, are among the low-lying islands likely to be most affected by rising sea levels — likely, that is, to become uninhabitable in the not-too-distant future. Uninhabitability will occur long before the islands are actually submerged. Higher tides and storm surges are capable of eroding, salinizing, and otherwise damaging soil, wetlands, and fresh water supplies. The King Tides of spring 2014, flooding substantial sections of the Marshalls, illustrated such processes.

It presently appears that the most heavily polluting nations (e.g., the U.S., China) will not take measures sufficient to reverse such developments — that, in other words, the Marshalls and other similar places will indeed become uninhabitable. That prospect raises many questions and concerns. This post focuses on the legacy — on, that is, memorable and symbolic steps that the government of the Marshalls might take, in order to make itself heard and remembered.

That government did take a memorable step in spring 2014, filing lawsuits against nine leading nuclear powers for failing to live up to the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970. The Marshalls have the misfortune of being the home of the Bikini Islands, where the U.S. conducted dozens of nuclear tests in the 1950s, leaving their own legacy of nuclear sickness and pollution.

With respect to the issue of rising sea levels, the government of the Marshall Islands may wish to consider certain additional measures. Here are a few suggestions, for purposes of discussion:

The Flood Level Pin. Rising sea level generally appears to be construed as an abstract, remote, and disputed concept rather than as a physical reality. The public may be better informed if the Marshalls develop an appropriate image or logo for purposes of making the concept more easily understood. I suggest a flood level pin, to be worn on lapels worldwide. The pin would present, in miniature, an image of a flood-level gauge or marker:


The original gauge would be mounted, in stone or concrete, at a suitable location in the Marshalls. On that full-size original, there would be considerable possibilities for artistic variation, in terms of color, arrangement, and otherwise. For instance, one scheme would run the ruler (in e.g., centimeters) up the center, on a yellow background, with a set of words and numbers to its left and another set to its right. The left-hand set would state the estimated (or historical) year at which that sea level will be (or was) reached; the right-hand set would identify related consequences (e.g., “fresh water becomes unavailable on 87 islands” or perhaps “35% of Miami becomes uninhabitable”). Full-size replicas could also be given, sold, licensed, or subscribed to cities and beaches around the world.

The Rising Sea Level Memorial. The magnitude of potential changes could be made visible, in connection with or independently of the flood level gauge (above), by construction of a memorial to the Marshall Islands. This memorial would consist of a suitably durable platform, constructed in or near downtown Majuro, capital of the Marshalls. The purpose of the platform (perhaps of a design reminiscent of the Waterworld movie) would be to give pleasure boat travelers of the future a place to tie up and dive, so as to see where Majuro was once located. The platform’s height — say, ten or twenty feet above street level — would be dictated by best estimates of where the water level will be, in the event that substantial glaciers and ice shelves in Greenland and/or Antarctica collapse into the ocean. The Memorial should include a time capsule, “buried” above ground, to be opened 100 years by now, presumably by divers.

RSL Memberships. In lieu of the distant, faceless masses of people who will be relocated from, say, Kolkata by a certain projected date due to rising sea levels, it may be useful to create a Rising Sea Level organization offering full, associate, and honorary memberships: full, to those who are at risk of being directly displaced by rising sea levels by a certain target date; associate, to those who have become sensitized to the reality of flooding due to causes other than rising sea levels (e.g., river flooding); and honorary, to those who have not experienced flooding firsthand but share in concern about it. Honorary memberships may be subdivided into premium (i.e., paid) and general categories. Purposes of the organization could include creation and development of the concepts sketched out above.

While these ideas are presented here as being to some extent Marshalls-specific, they could also be adapted to fit and to reflect the circumstances of many low-lying nations.


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