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Help! A sinking nation

The Climate Change continues in Cancun. Not much is being reported in the media, probably displaced by all the WikiLeaks-related hubbub. Then again, most informed pundits predict not much coming out of the talk fest.

The realities of climate change are no more graphically visible than for many Pacific islands, like Nauru.

"It's safe to say that many Americans have never heard of Nauru, the Micronesian island in the South Pacific. It's the smallest member of the United Nations, constituting just 8.1 square miles with 10,000 citizens. It's also one of the low-lying islands already facing direct threats from the warming planet.

Residents of Nauru face very specific challenges. Germany claimed the island as a colony in the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, the Nauru became a hotbed for phosphate mining, with foreign companies extracting its vast deposits. The mining left a legacy of pollution, contaminating 70 percent of the island and leaving it uninhabitable. The country won independence in 1968 and bought back the phosphate industry in 1970, but the toxic bequeathal means the entire population lives at the edge of the land, just a few meters above sea level.

This leaves the residents at particular risk as the sea creeps slowly upward. The contamination also leaves the country unable to tap groundwater, so residents rely on rainfall for drinking water—rainfall that has become increasingly unpredictable in recent years. "Climate change is more than polar bears. Climate change is very, very real to us. We live it every day," says Marlene Moses, Nauru's ambassador to the United Nations. The concerns are numerous, says Moses: "The threat of uncertainty of our future, the threat of uncertainty to what may come of us, whether we will still be here in 20, 30 years time, whether our island, whether our republic, whether our sovereign nation will still be here."

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