Journalists - they're never around when you want one. Two weeks ago a momentous event occurred: the beginning of the world's first evacuation of an entire people as a result of manmade global warming. It has been marked so far by one blog post for the Ecologist and an article in the Solomon Times*. Where is everyone?
The Carteret Islands are off the coast of Bougainville, which, in turn, is off the coast of Papua New Guinea. They are small coral atolls on which 2,600 people live. Though not for much longer.
As the Ecologist's blogger Dan Box witnessed, the first five families have moved to Bougainville to prepare the ground for full evacuation. There are compounding factors - the removal of mangrove forests and some local volcanic activity - but the main problem appears to be rising sea levels. The highest point of the islands is 170cm above the sea. Over the past few years they have been repeatedly inundated by spring tides, wiping out the islanders' vegetable and fruit gardens, destroying their subsistence and making their lives impossible.
They are not, as the Daily Mail and the Times predicted, "the world's first climate-change refugees". People have been displaced from their homes by natural climate change for tens of thousands of years, and by manmade climate change for millennia (think of the desertification caused in North Africa by Roman grain production).
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Some people ascribe the fighting in Darfur - and the consequent displacement of its people - to climate change, as people struggle over diminishing resources. But this appears to be the first time that an entire people have started leaving their homes as a result of current global warming.
Their numbers might be small, but this is the event that foreshadows the likely mass displacement of people from coastal cities and low-lying regions as a result of rising sea levels. The disaster has begun, but so far hardly anyone has noticed.
* thanks to Jon Freeman for alerting me to this story