The Rising Tide: Internet Cash May Not Be Enough To Save This Island Nation From Global Warming

sitnsping1Originally published in Sit’n’Spin Magazine, 2003.

One night some friends brought over their copy of the Tommy Lee – Pam Anderson sex video. We watched about forty-five minutes of the tape, which was mostly Tommy and Pamela flouncing around in their mansion like they were on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. After that, the happy couple went out cavorting in their motorboat, Tommy Lee chugging beers, steering wildly and pulling his erect penis from his swim trunks to honk the speedboat’s horn. Tragically, we never got to watch them hump, as the videotape had been recorded over with Wonder Years reruns before we got to the sexy part. Unsatisfied, I turned to the internet.

Typing “www.tommylee.com” into the address window, however, only brought up a VeriSign search page, informing me that “this page is planned for development.” Was it possible that a man, nay, a star, the image of whose penis is licensed for sale through the internet, wouldn’t even have his own web page? After a quick search, I found http://www.tommylee.tv, where I was relieved to find news of the outrageous drummer’s Ozzfest appearances, as well as “Official Tommy Lee Gear” (Tommy Gear, for short?), Lee’s website is one of a new handful of sites using the .tv suffix.

Dot-tv has been marketed as the up-and-coming web address for the entertainment industry – movies, music, and of course, television. The .TV corporation hosts such high profile accounts as MTV Germany’s website, and earthship.tv, home to a documentary about Titanic producer James Cameron’s trip to the site of the sunken oceanliner.

But Mr. Lee and fraulein Spears aren’t .tv’s native residents. While we are more familiar with websites ending with “.com” or “.net,” ICANN – the Internet Corporation Authority on Names and Numbers – has been awarding nation codes since 1985. There are now upwards of 240 nation codes. The United States has control of .us; the United Kingdom has .uk. Even countries with less prestige on the international stage have nation codes — the Palestinian Territories is “.pt,” Iraq is “.iq.” Dot-tv, as it happens, was originally the nation code for the tiny underdeveloped country of Tuvalu.

According the United Nations, Tuvalu is the third or fourth smallest country in the world and among the least developed. It consists of a string of 8 atolls located 200 miles to the north of Fiji, totaling 26 square kilometers. Its capital island, Funafuti, is just 2/3 the size of Central Park.

Prior to the Internet revolution, Tuvalu’s primary source of income was mail-order sales of their collectable stamps and lease payments from phone sex companies for the use of its telephone prefix. Television only became available on the main island of Funafuti in the summer of 1996, as part of the same telecommunications contract that allowed for the leasing of its telephone prefix. At first only Australian MTV was available, no doubt treating Tuvalu to its first views of such fine Motley Crue videos as “Dr. Feelgood” and “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)”.

In 1998, before the dot-tv windfall, Tuvalu’s gross domestic product was $15,660.10. In 2000 however, its government netted the princely sum of $20 million dollars through the leasing of its nation code, and should continue to receive sums of approximately this magnitude annually, with a decline in line with the general dot com slump.

Tuvalu’s stunning use of the esoteric randomness of the new world economy has inspired others. A similar experiment is occurring in Western Samoa, whose Internet suffix .ws is being marketed as World Site. The small population of both people and computers in these countries has created millions of empty web addresses useless to their owners and ripe for the picking.

* * * * *

Tuvalu has used the money received from the .TV Corporation to fund its membership in the United Nations. It has been using its newfound power primarily to voice to concerns over its most pressing problem: global warming.

For Tuvalu, the success of .tv is quite literally a matter of sink or swim. With its highest point only fourteen feet above sea level, it wouldn’t take many melting icebergs to put the tiny country underwater. Tuvalu’s government claims that this is already underway. “Tuvalu is flat. Flat as a pancake.” said Paani Laupepa at the 2002 UN Development Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. “We are at the frontlines of climate change.”

And the lawyers may be the first ones out on the battlefield. In February 2002, Tuvalu announced that it was suing the United States and Australia because of their refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocols on climate control. Tuvalu doesn’t stand much chance of the United States honoring any decision on the case, which is being brought before the World Court. Like the Kyoto protocol, the United States has also refused to participate in the World Court, giving yet another good-natured middle finger to the rest of the world.
“Flooding is already coming right in the middle of the islands destroying food crops and trees which were there when I was born sixty years ago.” said Prime Minister Koloa Talake. “These things are gone, someone has taken them and global warming is the culprit.”

The scientific community has mixed opinions when it comes to global warming and sea level change. With a network of tidal gauges across the Pacific, the Australian National Tidal Facility (NTF) stated “The historical record shows no visual evidence of any acceleration in sea level trends.”

But in his book The Heat is On, journalist Ross Gelbspan sites many scientists who warn that sea levels have risen 1/2 an inch since 1960 because of global warming and that the Earth could see a three foot increase in sea level over the next 100 years. This would be enough to create large scale change in the planet’s ecology and also enough to cover large sections of Tuvalu.

While the ocean has been encroaching on land traditionally used for residences and for growing food staples in Tuvalu, the NTF doesn’t attribute it to a change in sea level, but instead speculates about over population or soil erosion from the destruction of palm trees. The Australian NTF also questions whether the United States military digging out 1/3 of the islet of Fongafale to construct an airstrip during World War II might have had an adverse effect on the atoll system’s stability. The NTF’s verdict challenges the findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has warned of sea level rise.

Tuvalu’s prime minister recently appealed to Australia and New Zealand to provide homes for its people if the island disappears. “In the event that the situation is not reversed, where does the international community think the Tuvalu people are to hide from the onslaught of sea level rise? Taking us as environmental refugees is not what Tuvalu is after in the long run… We want our children to grow up in the way we grew up in our own island and in our own culture.”

* * * * *

We hear the thrum of a motor as the island sinks a little further beneath the surface of the blue Pacific. A speedboat edges into view. It swerves across the cresting waves, moving rapidly despite being heavily burdened with a full crew of celebrities, who laugh with robust good nature as salty sea water sprays up onto their faces, dotting and blurring their pancaked makeup. Pamela has one arm wrapped around her ex-hubby. He is at the helm, drunk as hell and driving like a madman through Polynesian waters, honking the horn with his dick, completely unaware that his marketability offers the only hope for a sinking island. James Cameron and a posse of tech stock traders are smashing beer cans against their foreheads.

The boat does not dwell in our view for long. It careens off towards the horizon, perhaps en route to some tropical resort or a Baywatch shoot. We watch the white wake reverberate through Pacific waters just a little bit deeper than they were a few years ago.

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