A 5000-year-old sunken city off the southern Peloponnese is the latest candidate for the fabled city of Atlantis. Known as Pavlopetri, and straddling some 30,000 square meters of the ocean floor, it is the first submerged Greek city found that actually predates Plato’s 360 BCE-era references to Atlantis in Critias and Timaeus.
Meanwhile, in their continuing refusal to address climate change, the planet’s industrialized nations are proceeding to slip beneath the waves new cultures, new peoples, new civilizations, new Atlanti. The Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu, for instance, is expected to disappear into the Pacific Ocean in less than 50 years.
In Dubai recently opened the $1.5 billion, 113-acre Atlantis Hotel, located on the world’s largest artificial island, offering rooms for $26,000 per night. This when roughly 1 billion people on this planet go to bed hungry every night.
Welcome to our world.
The science-types aren’t sure why Pavlopetri took a dive, back there some time around 1000 BCE. Theories include earthquake, tsunami, or sea-level changes.
“It is very likely a combination of the first two,” said Dimitris Sakellariou, at the Greek Institute of Oceanography. “As the world’s oldest submerged city it is truly amazing. It not only shows how people lived at the time, but is also of great interest to natural scientists because the waters around it are so shallow.”
The mayor of the nearby, above-water town of Neapolis, Tiannis Kousoulis, says “older generations always knew something was there, but we had no idea about the extent of it.”
Pavlopetri was spotted by British oceanographer Dr. Nicholas Flemming in 1967. He returned the following year with a crew from Cambridge, who, working with snorkels and tape measures, produced a fairly detailed plan of the town. It wasn’t until this year that a more substantial squadron of marine archaeologists, using underwater technologies developed for the military and the offshore oil industry, returned to more thoroughly survey the site.
According to Dr. Jon Henderson of the University of Nottingham, Pavlopetri “is the oldest submerged town in the world. It has remains dating from 2800 to 1200 BCE, long before the glory days of classical Greece. There are older sunken sites in the world but none can be considered to be planned towns such as this, which is why it is unique.”
“[W]e have almost the complete town plan, the main streets and domestic buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs and what appear to be religious buildings, clearly visible on the seabed,” says Henderson.
“We found ceramics dating back to the end of the stone age, which suggested that the settlement was occupied some 5,000 years ago, at least 1,200 years earlier than originally thought,” said Henderson, who co-directed the underwater survey.
“Our investigations also revealed over 9,000 square meters of new buildings. But what really took us by surprise was the discovery of a possible megaron, a monumental structure with a large rectangular hall, which also suggests that the town had been used by an elite, and automatically raised the status of the settlement.”
“It is significant because as a submerged site it was never reoccupied,” said Elias Spondylis, who co-directed the survey as the head of Greece’s underwater antiquities department. “As such it represents a frozen moment of the past.”
During a September UN conference on climate change, Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, speaking to an elite also frozen in the past, said “we must never forget that, at the forefront of those most affected by the impact of climate change, are the poor and the innocent.
Among these poor and innocent are those who inhabit the small Pacific island nation-state of Tuvalu. Because of people who are not them, Tuvalu as a state, as a land-mass, faces extinction.
Apisai Ielemia, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, recently wrote this:
If there is one issue that strikes at the heart of my nation, Tuvalu, it is climate change. Tuvalu is a small coral atoll nation located in the middle of the South Pacific. Our lives are closely linked to the marine environment and we live off the bounty of the ocean, with fish being our main source of protein.
The islands are very narrow: Funafuti, the capital, is a mere 600 metres wide at its widest point and the land is less than 2 metres above sea level. We are very conscious of the sea that surrounds our small islands and now also of climate change.
We must carefully use the small amounts of freshwater that lie underneath the atolls. We cautiously dig small pits to reach the freshwater in the ground so that we can grow pulaka (a root crop sometimes called taro) and save every drop of rain that falls. Tragically, our environment is changing. The old people have noticed the changes, beaches have disappeared, small islets have been washed away, coral reefs are starting to die and crops are dying from salt-water intrusion. The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed all these observations and predicted worse to come. As the temperature of the oceans increases, more corals will die. Sea levels will rise and severe storms will get far worse. Tuvalu faces a very uncertain future.
While we share responsibility for protecting our own environment, the impacts of climate change are caused by emissions from countries many thousands of kilometres away. We are at the mercy of the international community . . . Though difficult to comprehend, it is possible that our entire nation could disappear as a result of climate change.
Ielemia goes on to note, correctly, that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions guarantee a fundamental right to nationality and statehood. This right extends to all nations: for, to paraphrase Dr. Suess, “a nation’s a nation, no matter how small.” And industrialized nations that selfishly refuse to address their contribution to climate change infringe upon Tuvalu’s guaranteed right to nationhood: there is little practical difference, in the end, in obliterating Tuvalu through warfare, and forcing it to slide under the ocean.
The assault on places like Tuvalu is coming from people all over the world. As a Smithsonian writer noted in a 2004 piece:
[M]y habit of leaving lights on around my house, in Washington, D.C., a neighbor’s of constantly driving his large SUV to go just a few city blocks, and another neighbor’s preference for a toasty house in winter, would all play a role in Tuvalu’s fate.
It is estimated that by 2050 there will be some 250 million “climate change migrants,” but according to Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, such people enjoy no legal status. While the UN Refugee Agency mandate covers people who flee their countries because of state persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, or ethnicity, people forced to leave homes sinking beneath the waves because nimrods in the West will not stop roaring around on jet-skis are international un-persons.
Their number is so large and yet the world cannot even agree on what to call them. References range from ecological, climate and environmental refugees to climate change migrants and environmentally-induced forced migrants.
But these terms are titles only. They have no legal basis, and with that, the people being described either have no rights or are afforded watered down protection from another legal category that may overlap—if they’re lucky.
Last month over there in Paris sounded a warning that international-law people also better get ready to grapple with the notion of “ghost states,” wherein governments in exile might preside over citizens forced to scatter across the globe when their former homelands disappear beneath the sea.
Francois Gemenne, of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, looking towards the seemingly inevitable Altantisification of such nation-states as Tuvalu and the Maldives, asks:
“What would happen if a state was to physically disappear but people want to keep their nationalities? It could continue as a virtual state even though it is a rock under the ocean and its people no longer live on that piece of land” . . . .
“As independent nations they receive certain rights and privileges that they will not want to lose. Instead they could become like ghost states,” he said. “This is a pressing issue for small island states, but in the case of physical disappearance there is a void in international law.”
Gemenne estimates that up to 1 billion people may ultimately be forced to relocate due to climate change. As ever, it is the poor and the innocent who will suffer most.
The poorest and most vulnerable people were often unable to migrate,  research showed. “The poorest people lack the social and economic capital to escape,” said Gemmene. “This has very important policy implications. People will only move if policies are in place to allow them to do so.”
People are already trying to get out. An estimated 2000 people from Tuvalu, for instance, have the left the islands in recent years for New Zealand. Affluent Tuvaluans long traveled there for college and health care, but the new arrivals more often pick strawberries for a living. Many have overstayed their visas and face deportation, or have gone underground. New Zealand, recognizing the threat of climate change to Tuvalu, has decreed that 75 Tuvaluans per year may legally immigrate. Such compassion, such generosity, such magnanimity, well, it leaves one speechless.
Flying to Dubai as we speak are shiny happy people who don’t give a shit about any of this. Because they’re bound for the Atlantis Hotel, where they will spend tens of thousands of dollars to frolic in a gaudy resort that bills itself as the most lavish hotel in the world, sited on the largest artificial island in the world.
Although the place is right on the water, it features a giant open-air aquarium containing some 65,000 fish. With heaps and heaps of greenbacks you can secure a room that looks right onto the tank. There is also a special dolphinarium, housing two dozen bottlenose dolphins bought from a dealer in the Solomon Islands (some of which—the islands that is—will eventually sink, new Atlanti, sacrificed to climate change) and flown 30 hours to the hotel. There used to be a 13-foot whale shark enclosed in a tank in the lobby, but the thing had to be freed when do-gooder party-poopers raised an international stink.
The hotel launched a little under a year ago, with what was claimed as “the most expensive private party ever staged.” Such notables as Oprah Winfrey, Robert DeNiro, and the Duchess of York made the scene.
The palm-shaped island that is home to the new Atlantis also features the world’s largest mall, and nearby will eventually arise the world’s largest skyscraper. Coming soon too: an indoor ski slope. Donald Trump intends to put in a hotel here, and the QE2 will presently be anchored at the island’s “trunk.” An 1800-seat theatre will house a permanent Cirque du Soleil show beginning in summer 2011.
We are told by one Alan Leibman, president and managing director of Kerzner International, the hotel operator, that the Atlantis Hotel is “good value” and ideal for “family holidays.”
The original Atlantis, there in the earliest Greek tales, seems to have been a realm of elitist assholes, who got fat off enslaving people. So in that sense, I guess, the name is appropriate.
My jaw is still dropping from this Atlantis Hotel impossibility when I learn that 1 billion people on this planet go to bed each night hungry. Apparently we can fly dolphins half way around the world, and we can ski in the desert, but we can’t make sure that our fellow human beings eat decently.
And in this we are devolving. The world was moving against hunger in the 1980s and early 1990s, but about 1994 the numbers of the famished began again to climb. Why? “Due largely to reduced aid and private investments.”
So the problem is Scrooging. Though some of it is climate change (which is itself a form of Scrooging):
In Kenya, herders have seen scores of their animals die and crops have withered because of drought. Today, 3.8 million people in Kenya need food aid, up from 2.5 million earlier in the year.
Parents in some of Africa’s poorest countries are cutting back on school, clothes and basic medical care just to give their children a meal once a day, experts say. Still, it is not enough.
And Africa is not the worst of it.
The world’s most populous region, Asia and the Pacific, has the largest number of hungry people—642 million—followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 265 million.
We live this way, and they live that way, because “them that’s got” sees nothing wrong with a world where a few people can spend $26,000 on a night’s stay in Atlantis, while thousands of other people spend a night in Hell, trying to pick corn kernels out of each other’s feces.
As far as I can tell, throughout human history “levelers” have always been reviled and scorned. I can’t for the life of me figure out why. If somebody has $26,000 to stay in a hotel, and hundreds of somebody elses don’t have enough to eat, the $26,000 is apportioned among those who need it to eat. The person who would stay in the hotel can stay at home instead. Until everyone has a home. And something to eat.
If, for instance, and as it is said, it requires the resources of 5.3 earths for everyone on the planet to live like Americans, than Americans cannot live like Americans. Simple as that. To do so is folly. It is, as Conrad saw, “a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed, devil of rapacious and pitiless folly.”
Saturday night I traveled from 1 billion empty bellies to this diary, over on Daily Kos, where, for hundreds and hundreds of comments, the privileged Western omnivores, and the privileged Western herbivores, engaged in a titanic battle of pork rinds vs. potatoes. I wanted to say, hey, I just read about 1 billion people who would take pork rinds or potatoes—they don’t care, they just want to eat.
I wanted to note that, even as we furiously pound our keyboards here, always in some never-ending red ass about something, we still live in the same feast-for-me, famine-for-thee world where Richard Crashaw, some 400 years ago, was moved to write “To The Infant Martyrs,” for all those many, many, many nascent human beings never allowed to grow old enough to ever taste even once solid food: on our planet, today, every six seconds, a child dies because s/he didn’t get enough to eat. Crashaw at least had the solace of heaven. We know better.
Go, smiling souls, your new-built cages break,
In heaven you’ll learn to sing, ere here to speak,
Nor let the milky fonts that bathe your thirst
Be your delay;
The place that calls you hence is, at the worst,
Milk all the way.
But I demurred. Because it might have been considered threadjacking.