Mitigating Sea Level Rise on Hilton Head Island Requires New Identity – 2/27/16

Recently, the Island Packet reported that the Hilton Head Island Town Council is evaluating the community’s interest in “creating a new vision for the town.” Apparently, the Town Council feels that the participation by residents in this process might prove difficult due to “retirees in gated communities, which are like separate towns and their residents often don’t feel engaged with or mistrust local government, owners of rental properties who don’t live on the island, and younger residents in the ungated parts of town who are often the least vocal.” Of course, the Town Council should be concerned about the challenge of overcoming these factional divides to create a new identity. But, the Town Council should be even more concerned about how these factional divides are already undermining how the local community tackles complex issues that require long-term solutions. For example, consider the threat posed by sea level rise. Certainly, sea level rise poses a long-term threat to the safety and security of the local community. Unfortunately, many of the permanent residents on the island will not be around to see the long-term consequences of sea level rise on the local community. This should be a serious concern for the Town Council. Without young families with a personal investment in the long-term future of the island, sea level rise may not receive the attention that it deserves until it is too late.

Local Demographics

Local demographics confirm that Hilton Head Island is deeply factionalized. Let us consider a few statistics. First, the median age of the population has increased annually from 29.6 in 1975 to 50.9 in 2010 according to the 2012-2017 Sustainable Practices Action Plan. This stands in stark comparison with the median age of 37.9 across the state in 2010. Second, the residents of the island are geographically divided. In fact, according to some estimates, Hilton Head Island is comprised of 70% gated communities. Third, a little more than half of the island’s housing units are classified as vacant (rental properties, seasonal, second-home or for sale). In fact, the 2010 census states that of the 33,306 units, 16,535 are occupied housing units while 16,771 are vacant housing units. Fourth, many of the permanent residents do not have children. According to some reports, only 3,039 of the 16,535 households have children under 18 years. Of course, we could go on. But, the point is made. Hilton Head Island is factionalized along at least three important lines (i.e., age; residency; children) that impact the ability of the local community to tackle sea level rise and other complex issues that require long-term solutions.

Sea Level Rise

Regardless of where one stands on the politicized topic of climate change, sea level rise is an objective threat to the coastal region of South Carolina. And, Hilton Head Island is not alone in being unprepared for the growing threat. Overall, South Carolina recently received a D rating for “its below average level of preparedness in the face of an average overall coastal flooding threat.” This is because many coastal communities across South Carolina have taken little action to plan or adapt to future coastal flooding. But, there are exceptions. For example, the most populated city and economic hub of the Lowcountry, the City of Charleston, has recognized that sea level rise is a direct threat. And, they have released a strategic plan to counter this growing challenge. Hilton Head Island needs to be a leader on this issue as well.

One of the environmental strategies outlined in the Sustainable Practices Action Plan is to “reduce and mitigate negative impacts of sea level rise and global warming effects through beach re-nourishment and development regulations.” Unfortunately, both these measures do little to reduce or mitigate the long-term consequences of sea level rise. Beach re-nourishment projects are temporary solutions at the cost of millions of dollars every few years. At some point, these efforts might even prove cost prohibitive for the local community. But, that is not a personal concern for many of the permanent residents of the island. They will not be here when that day arrives. It is only a personal concern for the young families in our community. They will be the ones that will have to bear that burden.

Lack of Identity Undermines Action

While there has never been a better time to address that sea level rise is threat, Hilton Head Island is simply not in position to meet the challenge of sea level rise. And, the lack of a ‘sense of community’ will continue to hinder any future efforts to counter sea level rise. From my perspective, the local community therefore needs to shift the demographics. Hilton Head Island needs more young families who are personally invested in the same long-term aspirations and goals for their local community. Communities with a strong sense of identity are better placed to meet challenges of sea level rise. This is because they face a shared future. Research seems to support this. One study found that communities with a high resiliency to climate change have achieved it through a ‘bottoms-up’ approach where citizens feel that climate change directly impacts their homes or neighborhoods.

Now, it is well-known that Hilton Head Island is a popular retirement destination. But, a poll released by Pew Research Center on American’s views on climate change exposes that this also undermines any efforts to mitigate the long-term threat posed by sea level rise. When US adults were asked about their views on climate change, 60% of 18-29 year-olds replied that the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity compared to only 48% of 50-64 years and 31% of 65+ years. This poll demonstrates the serious generational divide on climate change. While younger generations feel that climate change will directly impact their lives, older generations do not share the same feelings.

Moreover, the number of vacation rentals and second homes paints a picture that a large number of homeowners have their roots planted elsewhere. While these homeowners may share the same concerns about sea level rise as permanent residents, they are not similarly invested in the long-term future of the community. The same goes for family households without children under the age of eighteen. These households are not similarly invested in the long-term future of the community as those with children under the age of eighteen. And, it will be difficult to change these dynamics. With a large percentage of gated communities combined with a median age above 50, Hilton Head Island simply is not in a good place to attract young families who want to become permanent residents.

Local Consequences

While the Town Council’s efforts to push for a new identity should be considered a step in the right direction, simply saying that the local community needs a new identity is not enough. We need to completely revamp the Hilton Head Island Vision 2030 so that its focus is on the long-term future of our community. That means that we need to attract young families as permanent residents. And, that in turn means that we need to get serious about tackling complex issues that require long-term solutions. Sea-level rise is just one of these issues. Others might include discrimination and income inequity. Right now. the community is not positioned to tackle these issues. And so, the community cannot attract young families. That needs to change. And, it needs to change quickly. If not, the local community will suffer in the long-term.

Author: James Carroll is a local resident of Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a graduate of the College of Charleston and a former Peace Corps volunteer.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors and not their respective organizations. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: Lee Coursey via Flickr CC

Controlling The Ripple Effects of Climate Change Across the Pacific – Litia Nailatikau

The biggest security threat facing Pacific Islanders is climate change and its halo effect over other security threats across the region. Of course, climate change affects everyone. But, it has its hand in literally every aspect of life in the Pacific. And, it represents an existential threat to that life as we know it.

Climate Change Refugees

There is no doubt that climate change will eventually force certain Pacific Islanders into becoming migrants. If one accepts this claim, then we need to immediately develop more effective climate change laws to govern the movement of these people. Last year, we may have already witnessed the first climate change refugee being denied his fundamental human right to security and migration with dignity. If so, he will probably not be the last. Others will certainly attempt to migrate on the same grounds. And, they will face the same legislative challenges. If we want to confront this problem, we new new alternatives. For example, we might need to explicitly classify climate change migrants as protected refugees under the United Nations Convention on Refugees.

Climate Change Villages

That said, we shouldn’t get sidetracked by individual cases. The scale of the problem posed by climate change across the region demands that we consider higher units of analysis. Consider Vuanidogoloa on Vanua Levu. By the time that it was directly breached by rising sea levels last year, inflowing soil and increasing salinity levels had already compromised food security and water security on the island. The Government of Fiji was arguably forced to relocate its first climate change village as a result.

Along with Vuanidogoloa, four other climate change village relocations are now underway across the Fiji. And, there are even tentative plans for up to fifty more villages to relocate within the next 5-10 years. While Fiji is beginning to adapt to the many threats posed by climate change, lower-lying Pacific Island countries (e.g., Kiribati and Tuvalu) have been dealing with these issues for decades. Unfortunately, they have also become dependent on imported goods for their very survival along the way.

A Non-Traditional Security Threat

As these examples illustrate, climate change has already had a major impact on security across the region. Not only has it undermined public health and facilitated the spread of Non-Communicable Diseases by denying many communities the ability to grow fresh food crops or consume fresh natural water. It has also well on its way to undermining food security and water insecurity to such an extent that many communities will eventually be forced into migration. From a security perspective, this threatens many of unique cultures that are at the core of our shared Pacific identity.

Moreover, these negative effects force Pacific Island countries to focus their attention on climate change at the expense of many other security threats. In fact, resources and finances are increasingly redirected towards programs that are designed to familiarize islanders with the downsides of climate change. While these programs are certainly helping to raise awareness and build capacity on climate change at all levels of society, they are also leading many island communities to put other important issues on the back-burner. For example, promoting human rights in places like West Papua.

The Idea of Camps

With this in mind, let us return to the question of climate change migrants? In 2013, the island of Nauru opened a refugee camp for those who are defined and protected by the United Nations Convention on Refugees. Though this may have been merely an agreement between the governments of Australia and the Nauru to promote local employment opportunities, one has to wonder if similar camps could ever provide a policy solution for dealing with climate change refugees.

From my perspective, it remains an open question. While such camps provide obvious benefits, one has to wonder whether we should ever incentivize climate change migrants from one island communities affected by climate change to relocate en masse to a neighboring island. If we want to go down that path, then how do we manage the secondary security challenges that will inevitably arise? For example, how do we manage the problems associated with allowing climate change refugees the right to resettle for a fixed amount of time on a neighboring island where local laws would enable them to become citizens within that time? These are the questions that we need to start asking. But, for the most part, we’re still not.

At the end of the day, the idea of refugee camps as a policy solution for dealing with climate change refugees certainly warrants consideration. But, are camps really the best solution? If we want to answer this question, we first need to seriously address the secondary problems associated with this policy approach. Until we do, the jury is still out.

Adi Litia Cakobau Nailatikau is a next generation policymaker from Fiji. She is currently participating in the East West Center’s Leadership Program with Taiwan. Previously, she worked with the JET Program in Miyakojima, Okinawa, Japan. She also served as a long- term volunteer in her community in Suva, Fiji. Nailatikau earned a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of the South Pacific, majoring in Environmental and International Law. After the Leadership Program with Taiwan, she plans to continue pursuing postgraduate studies in Climate Change and International Relations.

Guest commentaries and responses on the Islands Society Blog represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: Samuel Yu (Flickr CC)

Dalton Kuen-da Lin (Princeton-Harvard China and the World Programs) Named 2015 Winner of Islands Society’s “Security Threats in the Pacific Essay Contest” – 11/12/2015

Essays from Fiji, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Tonga selected as finalists in essay competition for young scholars

Today, the Islands Society announced that essays by five young scholars on Asia-Pacific security have been selected as the top submissions to this year’s “Security Threats in the Pacific Essay Contest.” These essays will now be featured on the think tank’s website alongside commentary from senior thought leaders on foreign policy and insular affairs.

This summer, the Islands Society issued an open call to young scholars across the region to submit opinion pieces on a contemporary security challenge facing the region. Specifically, young scholars were asked to answer: “What is the biggest security threat facing Pacific Islanders today?”

The Islands Society is proud to present responses to this question from the following young scholars (in no particular order): Melania Baba (Fiji,) Tevita Motulalo (Tonga), Adi Litia Cakobau Nailatikau (Fiji), Dalton Kuen-da Lin (Taiwan), and Genevieve Neilson (New Zealand / United States). The selection committee is also proud to announce that the essay by Dalton Kuen-da Lin was selected as the winner of the essay competition.

Below is a brief outline of the selected essays:

All of the selected essays will appear on the official blog of the Islands Society, The Islander, later this week.

About the Islands Society

The Islands Society is an international 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage. These projects are currently organized around two main themes: community projects and next generation leaders. The community projects center on ten issue areas, including charity, conservation, democracy, disaster relief, education, equality, health, innovation, security, and sustainability. Meanwhile, the next generation leader projects support artists, athletes, chefs, incubators, musicians, policymakers, storytellers, and technologists. To implement these programs, the nonprofit has launched local constituent societies around the world. These include the Pacific Islands Society, Baltic Islands Society, Sea Islands Society, Arctic Islands Society, Caribbean Islands Society, and Remote Islands Society (Japan).


Globalization: A Major Threat for Pacific Island Countries – Melania Baba

“Globalization” is a term often associated with progress and innovation. Despite its numerous perks, it has also shown itself to be the biggest and most immediate threat for Pacific Island countries. This short piece attempts to unveil some of the effects of globalization on the region.

A Connected World

A distinctive feature of globalization is “connectedness”. This is largely made possible by communications technology. Through this connectedness, we have witnessed the rise of world cultures. This in turn has meant that the cultures of the larger and more technologically advanced countries of the world engulf those of the smaller and less technologically advanced ones. In this process, the small and less technologically advanced countries lose their distinctiveness in their cultures, languages, values and identities.

The Pacific Islands has been affected by this process. It is often packaged and sold for its white sandy beaches, friendly locals and hotels offering various activities and services promising the world a memorable experience. In many Pacific Island countries, tourism is a major contributor to economic development. For example, it is major money making industry in Fiji. It provides work for locals and has a rippling effect for other local businesses. But, it has also brought many challenges to the way of life and culture of the people. Specifically, it contributes to sex tourism, commercialization of cultures, and environmental degradation – especially along its vulnerable coastlines. This is destroying the distinctiveness of the very thing that tourists come to see.

An integral part of globalization is technological advancement. In and of itself, technological advancement undermines the cooperative communal way of life. In other words, it undermines the ways in which the community traditionally sits and works together to derive their livelihood from the land and sea resources around them. In a connected world, these ways have been replaced by a dependency on processed foods and reduced activity, which has raised the level of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). For example, a recent study by the World Bank concludes that 70-75% of deaths in the Pacific are attributable in part to NCDs.

A World of Migrants

Migration is another impact of Globalization. With the advanced system of transportation and interconnectedness, emigration is made easier. In many Polynesian islands across the Pacific (e.g., Cook Islands, Niue and Samoa), the majority of their populations are living abroad. Migration has undoubtedly brought wealth to these countries. But, the second generation of these immigrants are also beginning to lose their mother tongue. Research has shown that many of the Pacific Island languages are now at risk. Language is an essential ingredient in cultural preservation. The loss of these languages would therefore undoubtedly cause the loss of many individual cultural identities across the region.

A Policy Imperative

There are certainly many advantages of Globalization. However, there has been a tendency to ignore some of its negative effects. Across the Pacific Islands region, these negative effects are now beginning to emerge with the evolving lifestyle, the health issues as well as the deterioration of culture and diminishing languages. And, these negative effects of globalization compounded the negative effects of climate change. There is therefore a need for Pacific Island countries to reassess globalization and its impact on the various cultures across the region. If the Pacific Island countries are to fully benefit from globalization, their leaders must put in place proactive programs that ensure these negative effects are addressed immediately.

Melania Baba is a graduate in Law and Political Science at the University of the South Pacific. Currently, she is a legal officer at a local nonprofit concerned with the protection of Fiji’s environment and the promotion of sustainable resource management through law. Baba is interested in international relations and climate change with particular reference to the small pacific island states in the Pacific.

Guest commentaries and responses on the Islands Society Blog represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: darthmauldds via Flickr CC

Lack of Climate Change Finance Threatening Pacific Development – Genevieve Neilson

As storms become more frequent and intense, sea levels rise, and coral reefs are destroyed, Pacific Islanders must adapt to a changing climate or move their lives elsewhere. Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) are at the forefront of climate change impacts and in the vanguard at international climate change negotiations. Yet, they still require improved access to financing to adapt to the threats of climate change. A central problem is that the climate finance architecture is in its infancy. And, it is changing; the Green Climate Fund started its work this year, and it is unclear whether it will replace or complement existing funds. It is therefore important for PICs and international actors to learn best practices from states like Samoa, who are succeeding in accessing funding from each global climate finance mechanism.