May 08, 2005 | Graham

Anthropophagai anyone?

I have a problem with the inhabitants of Tuvalu and Kiribati spruiking their imminent demise from greenhouse related climate change. I have an even bigger problem with the uncritical way in which these claims are reported.
Latest example comes from ABC Radio National’s Saturday Breakfast. Reporter Alexandra de Blas, always an easy touch for an environmental beat-up, breathlessly accepts every claim made by Catholic priest, Michael McKenzie whose parish is Kiribati. McKenzie claims not only that the sea level is rising because a recent king tide was the highest ever recorded, but that the sun has become so hot that the inhabitants of the island have to work at night because it is unbearable during the day.
On the first, I wonder how long they have been measuring tides in Kiribati. Tuvalu has only been measuring them for around 11 years, as I noted here, and as they are the other half of the former Gilbert Islands, there is a good chance the same state prevailed in Kiribati. The highest tide in 11 years is no really big deal. Topical lows and cyclones also bring higher tides, why didn’t de Blas inquire what else might have been implicated other than greenhouse.
The other thing to note is that the islands are geologically unstable, with one island having completely slipped beneath the sea. With the Tsunami being the big environmental story of Christmas this year, surely it might have occurred to de Blas, a specialist environmental reporter, to ask whether this might not have had an effect on the elevation of the islands and hence tide measurements.
The claim about the sun is an even more obvious candidate for skepticism. If it is that much hotter in Kiribati, then one would expect it to be much hotter in a lot of other Pacific Islands, or here in Australia, for that matter.
From Pliny to Margaret Mead Westerner’s have always been a soft-touch for tall tales and untrue from anywhere exotic. Anyone want to cover a story on anthropophagai? At least de Blas put some pressure on Fr Chris Toohey later on in the programme about the Catholic church’s position on birth control, but then as a modern girl, you’d expect her to have her prejudices correct.

Posted by Graham at 1:41 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. Graham, you might want to check out this story ( in regards to the 1.1 degree increase in temperature across Australia.
    Although I agree with your conclusion that an eleven year record tide is no reason to ring alarm bells, please don’t discredit this story without looking at the broader picture.
    As the recent Four Corners program ( highlighted … global warming is still a major issue, and one that seems to be severely underestimated – due, in part, to the counter effects of global dimming!
    If an isolated island like Kiribati, without a pollution problem such as we have in the western world, is not ‘protected’ by global dimming, it is conceivable that their average temperature may have exceeded Australia’s record hike.

    Comment by Collin Mullane — May 9, 2005 @ 2:50 pm

  2. The ABC story is interesting, although a little hyped. For example: “There are warnings of a new El Nino and the latest drought statement released by the Bureau of Meteorology shows the last three months were the warmest ever.” Ever? I think they mean since they first started taking records. At least they don’t invoke global warming, which is my beef with the Breakfast story.
    As far as I understand dimming it’s an issue no matter where you are on the globe – it doesn’t just affect polluted areas. It is also a similar effect in some respects to what you get from water vapour. Which may provide a clue as to why we’ve had such a hot summer, without having to invoke greenhouse to explain it (I don’t deny the greenhouse effect by the way, I’m just sceptical of some of the claims).
    I’ve noticed that the temperature has been hotter. I’ve also noticed that the spread between maxima and minima over the course of a day has tended to be larger than the standard 10 degrees that we normally get. This would be consistent with there being less cloud cover. Clouds tend to reflect sunlight upwards, similarly to global dimming, making maxima less pronounced, and they tend to reflect heat downwards, making minima higher.
    My understanding of the reason for there being less rain is that it is related to El Nino, which is not affected, as far as I am aware, by greenhouse. So, assuming the above is correct, then our hotter temperatures are likely to be related to El Nino rather than greenhouse, adn so offer no support to the Kiribati story.

    Comment by Graham Young — May 9, 2005 @ 3:57 pm

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