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Keywords:

  • disappearing islands;
  • climate change tourism;
  • climate change hero/victim;
  • Tuvalu;
  • voyeurism

At a time when climate change is being defined and grappled with around the world as a looming large-scale environmental crisis, low-lying Pacific islands are being publicized in a range of practices as ‘disappearing islands’, and their inhabitants as future ‘climate refugees’. This paper is concerned with the disappearing island as a space in which new intersections between environmentalism and tourism can be explored. It analyzes specifically western representational practices associated with climate change imperatives on Tuvalu, an atoll state in the central Pacific. New phenomena are emerging there such as climate change tourism and the transformation of the islands into showcases of renewable energy. These phenomena are analyzed in order to understand how climate change meanings are being shaped by various participants in the debate. I argue that Pacific islanders are heroized as climate change saviours when environmentalists attempt to locate ethnocentric notions of environmentally harmonious, ‘traditional’ culture on disappearing islands. Further, islanders are objectified in the rhetoric of climate change tourism. Imagined destinies for atoll dwellers as climate saviours are sited uncomfortably alongside voyeuristic gazes turned towards inundated islands. Competing forces of compassion and voyeurism produced in the name of the Tuvaluan indigene are entrenching an iconic role for the Tuvaluan atoll dweller as climate change hero/victim.