Radix - Climate Change and Human Security - a reply from James Lewis


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Dear Ben and Ilan,

I have come across your 14 pages on RADIX and unusually am responding to the invitation to comment.

The article is important because it brings together the many dimensions and consequences of climate change which, previously and often, have been considered separately. Heavily focused on the continents, especially Africa, this makes for a mamoth piece of work but I must boldly point out one or two shortcomings:

The situation of island states is underplayed and bypassed in the same paragraph by the larger scale global and continental impacts of sea level rise (p8). You will know that I have written for years on the proportional impact of hazards upon island states, the impact upon them of sea level rise being no exception. Other countries have some place else to go within their own territories, the occupants of coral atolls usually don't.

Sea level rise, as a threat to human security, was identified by islanders themselves several years before the concept of security was "introduced first" by UNDP and others (p3), one of the earliest field missions on the issue in Tuvalu and Tonga being commissioned in 1988. The Maldives government had raised the issue before the 1989 Small States Conference on Sea Level Rise, which it hosted and at which the Association of Small Island States was initiated with this concern foremost on its agenda. The Conference was reported in Disasters and the issues for Tuvalu were described in Ambio (references below). Islands and islanders are not as small children in a grown up world; they are ancient civilisations, cultures and societies without which the world will be a poorer place. "Neither, however, is any islander "entire of itself" and therefore every islander also is a piece of the global continent and "a part of the main". Islands and islanders should be a significant part in an otherwise deeply considered work of this kind:

In his 1624 "Meditation XVII" Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, John Donne wrote "No man is an island" - which I regret to have to say makes the reference to it inaccurate (p11). The full quotation is "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee".

I have given the quotation in full because I believe it to be more useful to your purpose than in the simplified short version - even when accurately given ! John Donne's words on this issue are given in full and conceptually explored in Ilan's "Island Vulnerability" website on which he has kindly hosted my "Island Anthology" http://www.islandvulnerability.org/anthology.html

I do hope that these few observations will serve to further enrich an already richly rewarding documentation of the consequences of climate change and sea level rise upon all nations, no matter what their size or political significance.

With regards and Best Wishes -


Pieces of the continent: An island anthology August 2003 http://www.arct.cam.ac.uk/islandvulnerability/

The Vulnerability of Small Island States to Sea Level Rise:
The Need for Holistic Strategies
Disasters 14/3 pp241-248 1990

Report: Small States Conference on Sea Level Rise (Male, Maldives 1989)
Disasters 14/3 pp77-78 1990
Environmentalist 10/2 pp141-142 1990

Sea Level Rise - some implications for Tuvalu
Ambio 18/8 pp458-459 1989
Appropriate Technology 16/2 pp26-28 September 1989
The Environmentalist 9/4 pp269-275 1989


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