Fiji: not a ‘natural’ disaster

Authorities in Fiji are assessing the extent of the damage after Cyclone Winston brought winds of over 200 miles per hour, torrential rains and waves of up to 40 feet (12 meters). The storm—said to be the strongest tropical cyclone ever measured in the Southern Hemisphere—destroyed hundreds of homes and cut electricity lines. There are reports of entire villages flattened. At least five people are dead by initial counts. The government has imposed a nationwide curfew and 30-day "state of national disaster," giving expanded powers to police to arrest people without a warrant. The storm moved westward after making landfall Feb. 20 in the north of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. It changed direction at the last minute, sparing the capital Suva the full force of its winds. (BBC News, Slate, Feb. 20) 

In the days leading up to Winston's landfall, thousands of dead fish washed up on the shores of Fiji and Vanuatu—due to high water temperatures related to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon. These same warm waters helped conjure Winston and propelled its unpredictable path around and through Tonga and Fiji. (Radio New Zealand, Feb. 18)

And once again… what those who point to El Niño often fail to grasp is that such "natural cycles" becoming more pronounced is precisely how climate destabilization is likely to manifest—or, better, is in fact manifesting. The fact that you can "blame" El Niño doesn't mean we aren't on a trajectory towards an uninhabitable planet

Just days before Winston hit, Fiji became the first country in the world to formally ratify the Paris agreement on climate change. Fiji, threatened by sea level rise and Pacific mega-storms, takes the issue very seriously—hardly surprisingly. The country plans to move entirely to renewable energy within the next 15 years, and is calling for outside aid to assist this transition. In 2014, the village of Vunidogoloa was relocated to higher ground under the country's climate change program, and 34 other villages are also set to move in the coming years. Fiji is responsible for just 0.04% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (Slate, Feb. 20)

Yet more evidence of the old Marxist saw: Where you stand depends on where you sit.

  1. Study finds rapid acceleration of sea level rise

    Yeah, I'd be worried about this if I lived in Fiji. From Climate Central:

    The oceans have heaved up and down as world temperatures have waxed and waned, but as new research tracking the past 2,800 years shows, never during that time did the seas rise as sharply or as suddenly as has been the case during the last century.

    The new study, the culmination of a decade of work by three teams of farflung scientists, has charted what they called an “acceleration” in sea level rise that’s triggering and worsening flooding in coastlines around the world.

    The findings also warn of much worse to come.

    The scientists reported in a paper published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have greater than 95 percent certainty that at least half of more than 5 inches of sea level rise they detected during the 20th century was directly caused by global warming.

    "During the past millennia, sea level has never risen nearly as fast as during the last century," said Stefan Rahmstorf, a physics professor at Potsdam University in Germany, one of 10 authors of the paper. "That was to be expected, since global warming inevitably leads to rising seas."

    "At least half of more than 5 inches of sea level rise"? What about the other half? Far from being alarmist, it seems to us like this study is hedging its bets.

  2. Fiji death toll rises

    The death toll in Fiji has jumped to 42 amid fears for remote areas and islands yet to be reached by relief teams, days after a devastating cyclone. Cyclone Winston, thought to be one of the strongest storms to hit the Southern Hemisphere, left 8,500 sheltering in evacuation centers. Teams are still being deployed. Officials said they met "grim images of devastation" on reaching Koro Island. (BBC News)