The climate change refugees are coming!

Actually, they’re not. But the family I wrote about last year, who lost their appeal for refugee status in New Zealand on the ground that Kiribati was going beneath the waves because of ‘climate change’, seem to have gained what they wanted. On a Washington Post website a journalist tells us that the family has now been granted residency in New Zealand by that country’s Immigration and Protection Agency. The rest of the story is about Tuvalu, a neighbouring island mini-state, and there seems to be another family in New Zealand from there, in much the same situation.

Is this a sign that the floodgates are open, and people will be coming from everywhere, claiming that they too are going to be beneath the waves? Well, no. The Tribunal neatly avoided giving credit to ‘climate change’, basing its decision on other factors, mostly humanitarian grounds (the family has been in New Zealand for the past seven years, and the members include an elderly mother who needs special care).

Nonetheless, the Washington Post did go on about ‘climate change’.

The small Pacific island nation sits just two meters above sea level. If the current sea level rise continues, experts believe the island might disappear in approximately 30 to 50 years. Tuvalu shares this existential threat with many other island nations and coastal regions, which have struggled for years to raise international awareness about their tragic plight. Predictions for climate change-induced displacement range widely from 150 to 300 million people by 2050, with low-income countries having the far largest burden of disaster-induced migration, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

You have to wonder about the common sense of the  ‘experts’ concerned, and the ‘tragic plight’. Current sea-level rise has been estimated by the IPCC at about 3mm per year, which is 3 cm a decade, or 9 cm over thirty years. So, if present trends continue (and there is some suggestion that sea-level rise is declining) then the seas around Tuvalu in 30 years would be 9 cm higher, and in fifty years’ time they would be 15 cm higher. If Tuvalu ‘sits just two meters above sea level’ then on my calculations it will, all other things being equal, ‘disappear’ about 2680, unless there is an astonishing rise in sea levels.

But of course other things are not equal, and coral atolls survive by growing, partly through coral reefs climbing upwards and partly through the accretion of sand and coral fragments during storms, which raises the land surface. It’s worth noting that Tuvalu’s population has more than doubled since 1980, and now stands at 10,800. The land has not doubled, so that food, water and accommodation are tight. The national income comes mostly from remittances from Tuvalu people who work in New Zealand and Australia, and from sailors — Tuvalu men are sought after as sailors and mariners. The economy is static.

All of that provides some sense of why Tuvalu people might want to leave, despite the coral island image. (As a stamp collecting boy in the 1940s I was much taken by the Gilbert and Ellice Island stamps of the day. Tuvalu encompasses the former Ellice islands, while the Gilberts are now called Kiribati.)

To make this rather slight story more attractive, the Washington Post provided a map, and here it is.


It is offered without explanation, and the casual reader might think it showed where all the climate change refugees will be coming from. That’s what I first thought. Well, no. It is something else again. The fine print says: Using temperature data from 1860 to 2005 as a baseline, climate departure describes the point in time that the average temperature of the coolest year after 2005 becomes warmer than the historic average temperature of the hottest year, for a specific location.

‘Climate departure’ — have you got that? There was a flurry about it on the ABC and elsewhere in October last year, because the map says that Sydney will be so much warmer in  thirty or so years’ time that 2038, apparently a cool year, will be somehow hotter than the average for hot years between 1860 to 2005. How do we know that 2038 will be a cool year, relatively? Blowed if I know. It’s the models at work, of course, and it must be true because it was published in Nature. Perhaps the journalist thought that ‘climate departure’ meant climate change refugees. Nothing would surprise me.

Back to the map. What has it got to do with Tuvalu or Kiribati and climate change refugees? Well, nothing, unless you assume perhaps that ‘climate departure’ (yet another new, vague but ominous term in the orthodox vocabulary) signifies island nations going under water. Alas, neither Kiribati nor Tuvalu is on the map, but one guesses that they will be in the 2020 zone for ‘climate departure’.

Another sceptic has described this whole piece as ‘ecopropaganda’, and I agree. The article starts with an idyllic picture of washing hanging between palm trees with a lagoon behind, relates that a family seeking residence in New Zealand on the grounds of climate change, have been granted it, but not because of climate change, relates warnings from people who say that there might be between 150 and 300 million climate refugees by 205, and throws in a map of the world whose meaning is opaque, to say the least.

This isn’t science, and it isn’t good journalism. But it is a good example of juvenile special pleading.






Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • warmair says:

    There is a problem and that is the maximum sea level in Tuvalu has risen by 47.9 cm (1.6feet) since 1998 (the year global warming is supposed to have stopped). Maybe a 9 cm rise over 30 years is just a tad optimistic.

    July 1998
    max 2.689 metres
    July 2014
    max 3.168 metres

    The average height of Tuvalu is just 2 metres above sea level knowing the sea level has risen by 25% of the way to inundating the place during a period when global warming was supposed to have stopped is a bit of a worry.

    A more realistic current figure for Tuvalu is closer to 10mm per year. The actual figure over the last 60 years is just over 5mm per year but as the rate of sea level rise has doubled in that time it is likely that Tuvalu is similarly affected.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Dunno. Here is Kiribati. Not much change there. These islands are all subject to large fluctuations due to ENSO. Elsewhere in the Pacific there are places with no change and high change. And remember that coral atolls grow; I saw a reference to the rate of growth being ~15 mm per annum. If I can find it again I’ll post it. And all the islands are still there after centuries of sea-level rise.

      • warmair says:

        According to Church and White ENSO and other factors not related to global warming account for about 60% of the sea level variation in the pacific, but this still leaves Tuvalu with a rate in excess of 10mm per year since 1998. That means it will be totally submerged at high tide in 150 years and long before then uninhabitable.

        According to the same sources sea level rise over the last 3,000 years averaged about 0.1–0.2 mm/yr up until the late 19th centenary. So it is not surprising that the Islands were largely unaffected over the last 3 millennium and easily protected by coral growth. The problem in recent decades is that sea level rise is occurring a 100 times faster and on top of that the coral is under considerable stress from both altered pH (from CO2) and increased water temperatures.

        The fact that sea level rise varies according location means simply that some places will escape the consequences of sea level rise
        while others will be inundated.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          You might like to go to an article in The Conversation by Paul Kench (Professor Geography at Auckland) who is the source of the remark about how coral atolls grow.

          He has a more recent (August 2014) article on the same subject in Science. There has been substantial sea-level rise in the past 150 years, but the atolls are all still there. He estimates 15 mm year growth capacity. He also points out that mining for coral and sand for airstrips and other building, and extracting fresh water from the lens that atolls have, will very likely cause subsidence.

          Church and White (2011) is a good paper, and they wrote earlier ones on the same subject. But, as so often in global warming data, aren’t there a lot of ‘adjustments’! And if you look at Figures 5 and 6, the trend line looks pretty straight to me, and at 1.3 or 1.8 mm per year over the past century or so. Yes, they say that there has been a shift to 3mm per year since 1993, and I used that figure myself. But there have been other short rises and falls in their own results.

        • dlb says:

          I had a look at the fact sheet put out by BoM and CSIRO on Tuvalu
          It contains the fairly standard orthodox (alarmist) projections. What is interesting is the graph they show of sea level rise from 1950 to 2010. (unfortunately with no supporting data). By eyeballing the graph there appears to be a fairly constant rise in sea level over that period with no obvious acceleration This equates to around a 10cm rise over 60 years, or 1.7 mm a year, hardly alarming.
          Although I am not a marine ecologist (a terrestrial one) I have no doubt that coral would keep pace with that sort of rise and much more. If the water warms coral species may change but not die out. The current islands may be a remnant of when sea levels were 1- 2m higher in the western Pacific 6000 BP. So rising sea levels may erode this remnant but this will be somewhat compensated by coral uplifted by storms.
          I can’t comment on ocean acidification, I will need to read up on this.

      • John Morland says:

        Wow, according to this graph Kirribati’s sea level dropped about 0.5 metre in 1998, the warmest (or near warmest) year during the modern (or millenium) warm period. (Yes, in history before that awful industrialisation begun – which dragged us out of medieval age utopia – the world has had even warmer periods, eg Minoan (approx. 1000 BC), Roman (approx 100-300AD) and Medieval (approx 1100 -1300AD).

        If there is a correlation here (which alarmists AGW’s assure us correlation is automatically causation -certainly where CO2 concentration and catastrophic warming is concerned) then Kiribati should have no concerns about possible future global warming. The warmer it gets, the lower the sea level.

        • dlb says:

          The big drop in 1998 would be due to the trade winds dropping right off during that large Elnino. The 0.5m of water would have headed east.

  • David says:

    Unrelated comment: Don I think you may find this interesting.

    As you probably know Maurice Neuman has come out and expressed some concerns about Global cooling. He cites some recent research which looks at Solar radiance. So I wondered about the feasibility of having a weather station on the Moon or in a satellite that orbits the sun. It seems to me that as the AGW debate is going to continue for quite a while it would be a great asset, in evaluating the importance of variations in solar radiance on temperature. My Google search turned up this article by Huang (2008) in Advances in Space research. I just wondered what other people know about this topic.

    “Understanding the balance between incoming radiation from the Sun and outgoing radiation from Earth is of critical importance in the study of climate change on Earth. As the only natural satellite of Earth, the Moon is a unique platform for the study of the disk-wide radiation budget of Earth. There are no complications from
    atmosphere, hydrosphere, or biosphere on the Moon. The nearside of the Moon
    allows for a focus on the solar radiation during its daytime, and on terrestrial radiation during its night time. Additionally, lunar regolith temperature is an amplifier of the terrestrial radiation signal because lunar temperature is proportional to the fourth square root of radiation as such is much more sensitive to the weak terrestrial radiation in night time than the strong solar radiation in daytime. Indeed, the long-term lunar surface temperature time series obtained inadvertently by the Heat Flow Experiment at the Apollo 15 landing site three decades ago may be the first important observation from deep space of both incoming and outgoing radiation of the terrestrial climate system. A revisit of the lunar surface temperature time
    series reveals distinct characteristics in lunar surface daytime and nighttime
    temperature variations, governed respectively by solar and terrestrial radiation.”

    Huang (2008) Advances in Space research

    • dlb says:

      Hi David,

      yes more information about the moons surface temperature would be excellent. I also have a vague recollection that a monitoring satellite was to be placed between the earth and the sun to measure solar irradiance, it may already be there?

      But back to the moon, there are two very interesting and easy to read papers by Nagihara et al (2010) talking about lunar regolith (soil) temperatures measured by the Apollo Programme. The instruments left by the astronauts show the regolith warming 2.5c from 1971 to 1977 when they stopped working. They speculate this warming may be due to the 18.6 year precession of the moon’s orbit around the earth changing the length of the lunar “summer day”.

      I found the graphs in these papers interesting, showing the enormous
      temperature swings on the surface between night and day and how at 1m depth these dissipate to the average temperature. This is very close to what a black body without an atmosphere should be, around -20c. Amazing how the earth’s atmosphere and I also believe oceans keep us much more comfortable. Below I will attempt to post a graph from one of one of these instruments showing the temperature variations and the slow increase of regolith temperature over the years. You can also see the yearly variation caused by the earth’s solar orbit.

      The two papers which were easily available on the web are:

      Nagihara et al 2010) Reexamination Of The Apollo 15 Heat Flow Data Toward Understanding Potential Causes Of The Long-Term Subsurface Warming Observed.

      (Nagihara et al 2010) Long-Term Warming Of Surface And Subsurface Temperatures Observed At Apollo 15 And 17 Sites: Implications For Future Lunar Geophysical Missions.

      • David says:

        Since Moon’s temp is still affected by Earth it would make most sense to have a satellite orbiting the sun on the same path as the earth, say 3 months (90 degrees) ahead. That would give very clean temperatures, as a sort of baseline to compare changes in the Earth’s temperatures with those of the Satellite.

        • dlb says:

          I have found out there are a number of satellites observing the sun at the balance point about 1 million miles towards the sun. However the SORCE satellite launched in 2003 makes the sort of measurements you describe. It is in an earth orbit, but I would imagine its instruments are trained on the sun. It has shown solar irradiance having increased by 0.5 Wm2 since 2009.

          Interestingly some researchers have extrapolated this data back to the 15th century using proxies (possibly sunspots ?) showing average increase of 1.0 Wm2. Apparently this graph appeared in the latest IPCC report. I will append it below, I have no idea if this small but steady increase in radiation has influenced our climate.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Yes, interesting possibility. I note that dlb has added a comment, and his/her knowledge is superior to mine in this area.

  • […] is no evidence available to show a causal link. Maybe they mean Tuvalu, a common poster child for ‘climate refugees’. But the whole thing is a typical example of the hand-waving and rhetoric associated with the […]

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