The tiny Pacific Island nation Nauru is today trapped in a nightmare: The country is degraded by unsustainable phosphate mining and the state is searching for an economical lifeline. On the same time, the island’s future is threatened by sea level rise. In her new book “This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. the Climate” the author Naomi Klein chose Nauru as an example for an area sacrificed to our mentality of carelessness.
Phosphate – A poisoned natural gift
Only 21 square kilometers large, the Pacific island Nauru was gifted with huge phosphate resources. Since the days of colonisation, this attracted miners from all parts of the world. In 1968 – when Nauru became independent, the phosphate industry got nationalized. The state exploited in record speed the resources in the name of progress.
The big party in the 1970s
In the 1970s, Nauru became the wealthiest nation on the planet. People could have made wise investments for the future. But instead, the inhabitants preferred to celebrate a big party. Money was used up for consumption: People bought big boats, sports cars and immense housings. Many residents quit their jobs. The government paid even household staff. This sounds like paradise. But it turned out to become a tragedy.
Leaving a moonscape desert
In the 1990, the phosphate reserves of Nauru were almost entirely exhausted. A seriously harmed environment was left. Phosphate mining turned the central Plateau to a moonscape of barren terrain. 80 percent of Nauru’s land area is today uninhabitable. Marine life was seriously harmed by silt and phosphate runoff.
The desperate search for money
Since the wealth was used up by consumption, little cash was left. Investments of the national “Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust” failed and the country run out of money. In the search for a financial lifeline, Nauru became a tax haven and illegal money laundering center. In 2001, Nauru entered into an agreement with Australia to host Australian refugees in exchange for foreign aid. Nevertheless, the state is still on the brink of bankrupcy.
Becoming the fattest place on Earth
During its wealth period, people forgot about healthy food habits and turned to a lifestyle of fast food and less physical activity. Obesity became thus an important problem of the country. According to the WHO, 40 percent of the inhabitants of Nauru suffer from diabetes. Media consider Nauru often as fattest place of the word.
A manmade nightmare
Today, Nauru is a manmade hell and a tale for the absurdity of globalization. The country struggles with a failed economy and a health crisis. The economy relies on imports for almost everything – from food and water to fuel. The environment is destroyed. Since the elevated zones of the islands are uninhabitable, people are very vulnerable to sea level rise. Islanders feel that they are trapped in a nightmare.
Why bothering about Nauru?
Nauru could have been exploited in suicidal way, because it was for the rest of the world unimportant and far away. This was paired with a local mentality of carelessness. Today, Nauru’s leaders use the fate of their country as warning example for the rest of the world. Like Nauru in the 1970s, we are living a lifestyle of overconsumption and facing the risk of an environmental collapse.
Naomi Klein reminds us with this story that we are currently dancing with the devil.
Klein, Naomi (2014): This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. the Climate, New York, Simon & Schuster.