“I can’t believe the news today; oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.”

Those are the opening words of U2’s song “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” The hit, written in 1983, addressed the violence of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, specifically the 1972 Bogside Massacre. 

While a peace agreement was reached in Northern Ireland in 1998, the song’s lyrics remain relevant to other tragedies we’re witnessing around the world. Every day, we are bombarded with news that we wish we could make go away. What’s happening in places like Ukraine can make us feel like abandoning our faith in humanity. 

But what if I told you that war is not the only thing that threatens to wipe countries off the map? 

There are, in fact, countries on the verge of disappearing entirely due to rising sea levels. While the plight of such nations rarely makes headlines, it warrants our concern. Real people are at risk of becoming refugees because their homelands could vanish.

The most alarming cases are the Maldives, Kiribati, and Tuvalu. Here, I will specifically address the case of the latter country, as it is the least known but may become “the world’s first digital nation” — existing only virtually.

Tuvalu is an island country located in the Oceanic region of Polynesia, roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii. It is one of the world’s smallest and least populated countries, with an area of just 26 km2 (10 square miles) and a population of around 11,000. 

However, over the next 50 years, both of these numbers may well be reduced to zero as Tuvalu contends with rising sea levels. The highest elevation in Tuvalu does not exceed two meters (6.5 feet) above sea level.

The idea of becoming “the world’s first digital country” might sound intriguing; Tuvalu is currently attempting to replicate itself in the metaverse, to preserve its identity and history. Through a partnership with The Monkeys and Collider agency, Tuvaluan authorities are working on a digital version of their country, including a catalog and a map, as well as records of historical documents, photography albums, and traditional songs. 

In essence, the metaverse version of Tuvalu is intended to function as a broad and interactive online museum, covering the nation’s history, geography, people, and native culture. Its main goal is to keep all these domains alive, even if the physical remains of Tuvalu disappear.

But despite the novelty, the reality behind this move is dark, and we should work to prevent it. 

To start with, climate refugees, like those from Tuvalu, would warrant equal consideration alongside war refugees and other displaced populations. And although it might not be apparent, this is also a question of liberty. Proponents of liberty should unequivocally support Tuvaluans’ desire to live where they choose to: their beautiful Pacific island home. And, of course, we should all extend empathy to people who would struggle to maintain their sovereignty without a physical land.

In this instance, we can only achieve results through global cooperation. Indeed, Australia recently extended permanent residency to Tuvaluans affected by the climate crisis. While commendable, this initiative will not prevent the country from sinking.

But there’s still hope to save the physical Tuvalu.

One pragmatic step would be for both public and private entities to collaborate and embody the principles of free-market environmentalism. This could involve incentives for companies committed to embracing sustainable practices and driving technological innovation geared toward mitigating the impacts of climate change.

On an individual level, we can choose more sustainable products and adopt a conscientious lifestyle, contributing in some way to lowering greenhouse gas emissions and, consequently, slowing the rise of sea levels. And, if you’re so inclined, various petitions are circulating, urging action on Tuvalu’s case.

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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.