Where is Nauru you ask? You’ve never hear of it?
Nauru isn’t quite the smallest country in the world, but it’s close. It’s a small coral island in the Pacific with a population just under 10,000. According to Paradise for Sale, that’s about 10 times its historical, more sustainable population. Nauru had the fortune or misfortune to be extremely rich in phosphate deposits, valuable for fertilizer. First as a colony and then as an independent state, the interior of the island was mined, leaving the landscape shown on the book cover.
The idea seems to have been that if the money from phosphate mining was invested, it could provide ongoing earnings to support the country once the phosphate ran out. However, it seems that many of the investments went bad (including financing a musical in London!) and now Nauru is struggling to find ways to maintain its economy.
Now the phosphate has more or less run out and the Nauruans are left with a nearly dead island with the habitable land around the edge of the island susceptible to climate change.
The story of Nauru is a powerful one, but I was disappointed by Paradise for Sale. Partially that’s because of my expectations. I expected it to be a book about Nauru. Instead it’s more of a book about environmentalism and sustainability that uses Nauru as a symbol of how badly everything can go wrong. While I 100% agree with the message, I really wanted a book that would tell me more about Nauru, rather about environmental problems more generally.
I want to know how Nauruans feel about their country and about their lives, something absent from the book. What is their opinion about the phosphate mining? How has it affected their lives? And what do they think about their country being famous for its environmental destruction? Could someone write that book please?
Nauru reminds me a bit of Moldova, a country famous for its unhappiness. (Though actually it has moved up substantially in the happiness rankings in more recent surveys.) It must feel strange for your country to be famous for such a reason.
More on Nauru: I first heard of Nauru on an episode of This American Life. It’s available online and if you’re intrigued by the story of Nauru, I’d definitely recommend giving it a listen: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/253/the-middle-of-nowhere.