Blog: The Carteret Islanders

So, the Carteret Islands are sinking, but why should you care? It’s a question well worth trying to answer; after all, the islands are a long, long way away, you are unlikely to meet the people who are about to loose their homes and when they do, it won’t change your daily life.

So, by any immediate, rational measure there is no need to care at all. Right?

Except, something deep inside me – and I’m guessing, since you are reading The Ecologist, inside most of you – says of course it matters. Just as much as any other tragedy matters. Perhaps more, given the Islanders will become the first wave in what is predicted to become a flood of climate change refugees. But is that itself enough?

It’s not enough for most people (at least in the US), where climate change has slunk right to the bottom of the heap of things people worry about. This, it seems, is really beginning to unsettle those of us who do believe it is worth getting up a good head of steam over. Is it our fault that no one cares? Are we talking about it in the wrong way? Should we try to make the subject sexier (maybe get Chuck Norris to do the advertising)?

Better blogs than this one have struggled with the question of how to make people care about climate change, and come up with an answer - it’s called the ‘Tom Sawyer’ approach:

“You know the story, right? Tom Sawyer had to paint a fence. So he sat on the ground and concentrated with all his might and made painting look like the most interesting thing he'd ever done. Soon enough, Huck Finn came along, saw how interested Tom Sawyer looked, and asked if he could paint, too. That's the Tom Sawyer approach to getting help painting a fence.”

But none of this takes us any closer to answering the question of why you should care. I can think of two reasons.

On the one hand, there is the moral argument. According to James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Space Research Institute, our responsibility for climate change is proportional to the cumulative amount of carbon emissions produced since the start of the Industrial Revolution (which seems fair; you caused the mess? Then you clean it up). On a per capita, or person by person, basis, that means the British.

Hansen wrote an open letter to the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, saying why this means he should care about climate change – and do something about it.

Coincidentally, I live just up the road from the Ironbridge, the symbolic birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, which is what started us pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which caused the climate change that is now causing the Carteret Islands to sink. The bridge itself was built in 1779, ten years after Captain Philip Carteret returned to Britain having discovered the islands that now bear his name. My house is just outside the top left of this photo:

So much for morality. There is also another argument.

This is Ruby, at 11 hours old.

I’m not her dad, I’m not even her uncle (though I will be when I marry her aunt in August). But I do know that you can’t have her wrap her hand around your finger without wanting to make the world a better place for when she grows up. Would she be happy in 20 years time to know the Carterets have sunk beneath the waves, or that we stood by and let them go, uncaring? And how much more of the world are you prepared to loose before she grows up enough to realise its gone?

The world can be saved. We’ve done it before, with CFCs. Ruby, there’s your reason to care. There also is your message of hope.

Dan Box will be blogging live on his journey to the Carteret Islands at

Visit the Royal Geographic Society Journey of a Lifetime Award

More from this author