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The Hungry Tide cover image

The Hungry Tide 2011

Highly Recommended

Distributed by The Video Project, PO Box 411376, San Francisco, CA 94141-1376; 800-475-2638
Produced by Tom Zubrycki
Directed by Tom Zubrycki
DVD , color, 53 min.

General Adult
Environment, United Nations, Pacific Islanders, Climate Change, Global Politics

Date Entered: 07/09/2013

Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach

It is a truism of environmental studies that the benefits and liabilities of resource exploitation are not evenly or justly distributed. The rich countries benefit most from the exploitation of natural resources, while the poorest often suffer the gravest consequences of that exploitation. Nowhere is this more the case than among the impoverished island nations of the Pacific, where rising seas threaten to eliminate their existence. This compelling documentary tells the story of the central Pacific Ocean nation of Kiribati. Its 105,000 residents live on 33 separate atolls—on average two meters above sea level—that are rapidly disappearing. Scientists predict that it will be the first nation to disappear as a result of climate change – a point made poignantly in the film by images of villagers sloshing, ankle and knee deep in water, along previously dry pathways between their homes. During the more frequent high tides the sea walls they build are inundated even before they are completed. A severe drought compounds the challenge, along with the spoiling of fresh water sources with salt water. Kiribati is the proverbial canary in the coal mine—the harbinger of dramatic changes that may devastate much of the coastal communities around the world.

The film tells the tragic tale of Kiribati through the perspective of Maria Tiimon, a Pacific Islander activist and Kiribati native. Tiimon is torn between her political and familial obligations. Her challenge is to present Kiribati’s case to the world community at a United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.

It seems unlikely that the richer nations of the world, should they even be moved by the story of Kiribati, would be inclined to change their own behavior. But even more problematic are the fast developing nations like China and India, which are unlikely to sign any agreement that would limit their economic growth. And so the Copenhagen conference resulted in yet another non-binding agreement asking nations to pledge to reduce carbon emissions—another way of allowing them to make pledges and continue doing business as usual. Relocation may be the only option for Kiribati and the other Pacific Islanders—but to where? And who will pay for it? Sadly, this documentary may serve less a call to action and more as a last glimpse into a doomed nation and culture—an obituary for a land that global warming destroyed.