Bill Weir Takes Your Questions About Kiribati

Thank you for your interest in Bill Weir's report from Kiribati and the "World News" series "Key to the World." Weir visited this remote nation, comprised of 33 islands, and spoke with its president, Anote Tong, who warns that his nation will be underwater in 50 years due to climate change.

The following is a selection of Weir's answers to your questions:

Question: What does the scientific community have to say about it? Not just an "oh they agree." A real official statement. Most people claim it is real or it is a hoax, like the leader from Kiribati who went to the United Nations and said it is a fact, a certainty, it will happen in 50 years. Sounds like more fear tactics. What do the facts say? -- James


Answer: The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes the world's top climatologists and meteorologists and their yearly sessions are attended by hundreds of peer-reviewed experts and government ministers. Before releasing each report, there must be a consensus (no small feat among scientists from different climates and economies).

Their last report in February declared, "Hotter temperatures and rises in sea levels will continue for centuries," and "the probability that this is caused by natural climatic processes alone is less than 5 percent."

While most scientists are reluctant to predict precise levels of sea rise, at the current rate water on the equator will go up at least three feet this century. This leads the IPCC to declare in a forthcoming report, "Hundreds of millions of people are vulnerable to flooding due to sea-level rise … the numbers affected will be largest in the megadeltas of Asia, but small islands face the highest relative increase in risk."

The president of Kiribati explained that he chose his midcentury deadline "for planning purposes." "I like to set a time at 50 years because we can't begin when the problem is on top of us … The response has to begin from now."

Speaking to the price being paid by poor equatorial nations, Henry I. Miller, a fellow with the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University told The New York Times this week, "Like the sinking of the Titanic, catastrophes are not democratic. A much higher fraction of passengers from the cheaper decks were lost. We'll see the same phenomenon with global warming."

Question: Have these islands ever been underwater before? -- Michael

Answer: Not to this extent.

Question: What a terrific story, and so tragic. The compelling speech that the president must have delivered should really resonate with the people who are quite literally compromising the sovereignty of this nation. Have you found that they wish to hold anyone financially or legally responsible for this? If someone invades another country, we go to war to stop them. What if someone wipes a country off the map? Who is held accountable for the loss of a culture, a nation, a society? -- Frank Buono

Answer: There have been rumblings that these small island nations might join together and take their case to the International Court of Justice. President Tong would confirm no such plans, telling me, "We are inexperienced in international legal affairs. We believe an international crime has been committed. And it's the result of action done elsewhere which is now impinging on us. In a somewhat extreme manner I alluded to this as equal terrorism. There is suffering as a result of action taken elsewhere."

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