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FROM COPRA SEQUESTRATION TO OUTBOARD ENGINE TRAWLING: CHANGES IN THE CARBON FOOTPRINT OF ONTONG JAVA ATOLL, SOLOMON ISLANDS

Accepted version
Peer-reviewed

Type

Article

Change log

Authors

Bayliss-Smith, Timothy 
Christensen, AE 

Abstract

The colonial economy of Ontong Java atoll, Solomon Islands, was centred around the sale of sun-dried copra. Atoll livelihoods depended on the ‘solar income’ freely available for growing coconuts and drying copra, and for sailing the outrigger canoes used for transport and fishing. The population retained self-sufficiency through its renewable resources of taro, coconut and fish, enabling it also to sequester significant amounts of carbon in the form of coconuts. Ontong Java livelihoods were transformed in the 1970s by a boom in selling bêche-de-mer (holothurians, sea cucumbers) to Chinese markets in south-east Asia. The resulting influx of money allowed more food and fuel to be imported and led to a massive increase in the atoll’s carbon footprint, as quantified in this paper. The people’s eagerness to adopt the new ‘energy slaves’ of fiberglass canoes, outboard engines and petrol reduced their self-sufficiency. These changes caused physical and ecological damage to marine ecosystems and also to the woodlands that provide fuel wood. The atoll’s economy is now more energy intensive and less sustainable, both unintended side effects of its fossil-fuel-based ‘energy slavery’. The very existence of atolls is now under threat because of climate change and sea-level rise, despite their total contribution to greenhouse gas emissions being both recent and miniscule.

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Keywords

Journal Title

Journal of Pacific History

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

0022-3344
1469-9605

Volume Title

Publisher

Routledge

Publisher DOI

Publisher URL