News Release

Temple Emanuel Nov. 8, 2010 Kensington, Maryland


Preeminent climate scientist and noted environmental leaders speak out on behalf of the Kiribati Nation, calling upon world leaders who will gather this month at the Economic Summit in Seoul and the U.N. Climate talks in Cancun to address the issue of water scarcity and its impact on food sources. James Hansen, world renowned climate scientist, Lester Brown, Founder and President of Earth Policy Institute, Rabbi Warren Stone, religious environmental activist who served as delegate at the U.N. climate talks in both Kyoto and Copenhagen, and Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network, call for bold action to alleviate this and other manifestations of global climate change.

Dr. James Hansen warned: "Kiribati and the Micronesian Islands epitomize the global warming story: actions now have effects decades in the future. It is now too late to avoid small sea level rise wiping out some Pacific islands, but we can and must avoid wiping out the land and lives of hundreds of millions of people and species."

Rabbi Warren Stone, who will soon be attending a world religious leaders’ Spiritual Forum in Seoul, relayed: "The most vulnerable nations of the world, particularly Kiribati and the Micronesian Islands, are currently facing a severe crisis of water shortages and the resulting disappearance of their food systems. Within decades, many other nations will be facing these same water and food issues. The Micronesian Island nations are the world's first environmental refugees. It is the moral responsibility of world leaders, both at the Economic Summit in Seoul and the UN climate talks, to act now to protect future generations and the world’s creation from climate devastation."

Kathleen Rogers, who will soon be attending the U.N. climate talks in Cancun, urged: "In the absence of a global agreement on climate, our leaders must turn the COP 16 into a referendum on funding to protect developing nations from the disabling and destructive impacts of global warming. Anything short of full funding will seal the fate of not just Kiribati and the Micronesian Islands, but other at risk nations. It leaves the developed nations defending their economies and way of life at the expense of millions of people and species."

Lester Brown, Founder and President of Earth Policy Institute stated, "If we continue with business as usual, how much time do we have before we see serious breakdowns in the global economy? The answer is, we do not know,because we have not been here before. But if we stay with business as usual, the time is more likely measured in years than in decades. We are now so close to the edge that it could come at any time. For example, what if the 2010 heat wave centered in Moscow had instead been centered in Chicago? In round numbers, the 40 percent drop from Russia’s recent harvests of nearly 100 million tons cost the world 40 million tons of grain, but a 40-percent drop in the far larger U.S. grain harvest of over 400 million tons would have cost 160 million tons."

About Kiribati

Kiribati, a Micronesian island of roughly 100,000, sits precariously on the very front lines of climate change. Located in the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati straddles the Equator. The tiny nation is composed of one island and 32 smaller atolls, islets of coral, which circle a lagoon. In 1999, two Kiribati islets, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea disappeared underwater. Another of Kiribati’s islets, Tuvalu, has lost its coconuts trees, a major food staple, because the seawater has salinated the fresh water sources. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the sea levels around Kiribati will rise by about half a meter (20 in) by 2100 or earlier due to global warming and that a further rise is inevitable. It will be the first nation of the world to disappear completely.

As Kiribati falls victim to climate change, we are reminded that one of the most urgent issues of our day is access to fresh water. Pacific Ocean waters are increasingly encroaching onto and salinizing the island. Salt water is seeping into the ground soil, destroying both the edible crops and the fresh water table underneath the island that has sustained its inhabitants and all life forms for centuries. The drinking water procured from streams and rains is also becoming salinized. The island people must now either import water and food for their families or become refugees leaving their nation.

The ravages of climate change are already impacting the Kiribati nation in frightful ways. Minister of the Environment of Kiribati, Michael Foon, addressed delegates at the UN Copenhagen talks: "Our children have no water!" How many more of our children will die because they have no access to fresh water?" Jesse Lambourne, a Kiribati native, spoke passionately: "We do not want to lose our homeland; we want to live in our country, our country called Kiribati! They tell us to leave the coast and leave our homeland. If our whole country is coastal area, where do you move? Our land is our spiritual connection to our ancestors, our culture, our memories — we are fighting to maintain our land as a people."

Lambourne closed with this personal plea: "Help us, help us, tell the world our story!" The Kiribatians offered each delegate a shell necklace from their island and asked that they be remembered.

Hansen, Brown, Stone and Rogers join in response to the Kiribati plea and call on world leaders to act with a sense of urgency and moral purpose. "Remembering Kiribati" means awareness of the larger threats of cultural annihilation that climate change will bring to the most vulnerable. Climate change will present us with the most fundamental moral challenge that humanity faces in our century. It is imperative that we recognized that now is the time to address global water and food issues and develop international management programs. They urge all world leaders to review the technical papers on climate change and water at


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