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That Sinking Feeling

Posted by Natalie in Environment - 24 March 2011

When a rogue website reported that a small Pacific state had legalised cocaine the country’s denial was resolute, but the truth reveals a more disturbing story.

Yesterday I momentarily fell for what now seems like a ridiculously implausible hoax. A website called CBS published a story about how the Marshall Islands had legalised all substances and opened its borders, dropping all visa restrictions. The authorities promptly issued a strong and defensively emotional response, calling it libelous, yellow journalism.

It wasn’t just the name of the website that misled me for a moment (it’s unrelated to CBS News,of course); it was because I really wanted this story to be true. Anyway, is it so unfeasible that a country would legalise drugs? It’s certainly not unheard of. And the lack of visa restrictions might not be such a big deal when you’re surrounded on all sides by 2000 miles of unforgiving ocean.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a diminutive country made up of dozens of atolls and islands, lying in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii. It’s history is reminiscent of many previously isolated communities; the islands had been home to self-sufficient indigenous people for millenia. Due to their strategic position, however, the land and its people have been exploited in recent years, standing witness to wars of which they were never a part, victims of colonisation and reckless atomic testing.

Many Marshall Island communities now live in poverty and desperation. In the last few years things have become more critical: as water levels rise, it’s possible the islands could be reclaimed by the sea in the next 30 years.

The idea of the Marshall Islanders taking these independent, drastic and (dare I say) forward-thinking steps to generate revenue for climate change adaptation measures was appealing in the context of the country’s oppressed history and bleak future.  The inhabitants of these islands are still paying for other peoples crimes and have little control over their destiny. These people who have lived low carbon lifestyles for thousands of years will be the ones to suffer first and worst.

At around the same time, on a slightly larger island on the other side of the world, a chancellor made some similarly preposterous announcements, but these ones were real.  It’s no longer just the Marshall Islanders who have that sinking feeling.

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