Coming soon to a screen near you: the world’s first climate war!

It’s estimated that only a small fraction of the oil that’s being hemorrhaged into the Gulf of Mexico is visible to us, either washing up as tar balls on beaches or — despite BP’s best efforts to block witnesses — in heart-rending images of wildlife smothered to death by the vile stuff.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

However awful these images are, the frightening truth is that, like a cancer slowly growing in our lungs, it’s what we can’t see that we should be really worrying about. But we’re a funny species, capable of fantastically complex technological feats (like drilling down 18,000 feet in the ocean… sort of) and yet still largely driven by our reptilian brains, tending to respond with urgency and emotion only to threats that are immediate and visible. Ironically, the more integrated technology and media become in our lives, the more it seems that things need to be sensational to get our attention. And keeping it? Well, now that’s a real challenge.

This matters because the greatest threats we face right now are ones invisible to us or happening at relatively glacial speed — billions of tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases being released every year into the atmosphere, the acidification of the oceans, the depletion of our energy sources and other natural resources like fresh water, the erosion of top soil, the exponential growth of human populations, the de-skilling of entire generations of Americans, the misguided belief that progress and well-being can only come from a constantly growing economy, and on and on.

Of course, proximity does wonders for making these threats feel real and immediate. Just ask an elderly farmer if he or she has noticed any changes in their environment or the quality of their soil. Or ask a low-lying islander about sea level rise.

Understandably, island nations like Tuvalu, The Maldives, and the Republic of Cape Verde are increasingly voicing frustrations with the pace of international climate negotiations and the lack of targets that would, you know, actually have a chance of saving their countries from literally disappearing from the face of the earth. At the recent UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, Cape Verde Ambassador and Vice President of the Association of Small Island States, Antonio Lima, responded to criticism that they were being politically unrealistic.

“How can you tell me trying to save the planet is unrealistic? Is trying to save our countries unrealistic?” … “These people should come to Tuvalu, come to the islands, and see what is happening here. They should meet the people who are forced to think about losing their entire country. Then they can talk about what is realistic.”

“We need people around the world to stand in solidarity with island nations,” the Ambassador continued. “If we can’t show solidarity for islands today, how we will we show solidarity with New York or London when it is threatened by rising seas?”

Faced with this clear and present danger, some island nationers have already begun to explore other options. A new film, Sun Come Up, follows the difficult journey of a group of Carteret Islanders as they seek a new home in civil war-torn Bougainville, located fifty miles away across open ocean.

As Post Carbon Institute Fellow Bill McKibben details in his latest book Eaarth, they aren’t the only ones.

The president of The Maldives announced that his low-lying nation was planning to save a billion dollars annually from its tourist income so that it could buy land and relocate the population to Sri Lanka or Australia before the ocean finally rose too high for its survival. “We will invest in land,” he said to CNN. “We do not want to end up in refugee tents if the worst happens.” The Maldives weren’t alone, by the way. A few months later the Pacific island nation of Kiribati announced a similar plan.

It took pictures of oil-capped waves, dead pelicans, and streaming video of tens of thousands of barrels of oil bursting from the ruptured ocean floor to raise sufficient outcry for President Obama to announce a moratorium on offshore drilling (well, sort of). What’ll it take to engender any kind of serious response to the threat of sea level rise?

How about a mock invasion?

photo by Lance Cpl. Jesse Leger

The World’s First (Fake) Climate War

A few months ago, some friends and I kicked around this very idea — staging a fake invasion of one Pacific island nation by another, both desperate to secure high ground for their citizens before it’s too late. The story was simple:

Two neighboring Pacific Island nations have been in dialogue about Nation #1 purchasing an island in Nation #2 with higher elevation in order to move citizens there from Nation #1 as a result of rising sea levels due to global warming. Diplomatic efforts to get the world community to take bold action to address climate change and failed negotiation with Nation #2 has led Nation #1 to be desperate. Tensions have risen between the nations to the point that Nation #1 decides to take possession of the island by force.

In the meantime, a young, unknown female reporter working for an equally unknown news outfit is in Nation #2 covering another story (precisely what is irrelevant). Responding to the din of battle and the chaotic response of locals, she grabs her satellite video, pays a local fisherman to transport her, and heads out on the water to see what was going on.

What ensues is a series of reports being made via satellite with increasing urgency. Sounds of gun shots, clips of locals fleeing, views of soldiers from Nation #2, the reporter asking locals what’s going on, clips of locals fleeing the island, etc.

{The hope here is that this series of reports will be picked up by AP/Reuters and Cable News outlets. As these reports spread, word goes viral on twitter, facebook, youtube, etc. Part of the production effort will be to seed online users to spread the news virally.}

An hour into the crisis, the President of Nation #1 releases a video statement explaining that his country was left with no choice. He lays out the dire risks posed to his island nation because of sea level rise due to global warming.

Fifteen minutes later, the President of Nation #2 releases his own video statement explaining that his own country is facing the same threats due to climate change and that this island is key to their own survival.

Over the course of 2-3 hours, it seems that things are escalating but eventually, there is a reprieve in the battle. The reporter makes her way to the main government building on the island. It appears that there has been a truce called.

We then see live the arrival of two different convoys — one from Nation #2, the other for Nation #1. The reporter is able to spot the President of Nation #2 entering the building. Thirty members later, she spots the President of Nation #1 arrive.

The reporter heads inside and gets permission to film. Twenty minutes later, both Presidents come out and make a joint statement. The statement is essentially a “gotcha.” Their ultimate statement is that they were driven to engage in this charade because the international community has ignored their pleas to take action.

If done well, this fake invasion would be fed to cable network news and internet media as a real-time, unfolding crisis and quickly carried by them to the rest of the world. If the mainstream media couldn’t take the time to ask a few critical questions in the run-up to the bombing of Baghdad, in their haste to not lose a juicy story do you really think they would stop to examine what they were seeing?

I’ll admit it, the image of Wolf Blitzer scrambling to figure out where in the hell these little island nations are located and how to pronounce their capitols gave me a good chuckle.

The whole point of this elaborate ruse, of course, is deadly serious — to bring home to the Western world the reality of global warming… to put public pressure on Western governments to take real and urgent action… and to generate questions of and within the mainstream media about their own (lack of) coverage of the climate crisis.

But while fun to brainstorm, we quickly dismissed the idea as too impractical and risky, even for our friends the Yes Men or the professionals at The Daily Show and Participant Media. But it makes me wonder… Is this the kind of thing we need to do to awaken our collective reptilian brain, before it’s too late?

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