Wishful sinking: Disappearing islands, climate refugees and cosmopolitan experimentation

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Abstract

Disappearing islands and climate refugees have become signifiers of the scale and urgency of uneven impacts of climate change. This paper offers a critical account of how sea level rise debates reverberate around Western mythologies of island laboratories. I argue that representations of low-lying Oceania islands as experimental spaces burden these sites with providing proof of a global climate change crisis. The emergence of Tuvalu as a climate change ‘canary’ has inscribed its islands as a location where developed world anxieties about global climate change are articulated. As Tuvalu islands and Tuvaluan bodies become sites to concretize climate science's statistical abstractions, they can enforce an eco-colonial gaze on Tuvalu and its inhabitants. Expressions of ‘wishful sinking’ create a problematic moral geography in some prominent environmentalist narratives: only after they disappear are the islands useful as an absolute truth of the urgency of climate change, and thus a prompt to save the rest of the planet.

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