Resource extractivism, health and climate change in small islands

Purpose The extraction of natural resources has long been part of economic development in small islands. The damage to environment and health is extensive, even rendering once productive islands virtually uninhabitable. Rather than providing long-term benefits to the population or to the environment, the culture of “extractivism” – a nonreciprocal approach where resources are removed and used with little care or regard to consequences – has instead left many in far more fragile circumstances, increasingly dependent on external income. The purpose of this paper is to show how continued extractivism in small islands is contributing to global climate change and increasing climate risks to the local communities. Design/methodology/approach Through a series of case studies, this paper examines the history of extractivism in small islands in Oceania, its contribution to environmental degradation locally and its impacts on health. Findings It examines how extractivism continues today, with local impacts on environment, health and wellbeing and its much more far-reaching consequences for global climate change and human health. At the same time, these island countries have heightened sensitivity to climate change due to their isolation, poverty and already variable climate, whereas the damage to natural resources, the disruption, economic dependence and adverse health impacts caused by extractivism impart reduced resilience to the new climate hazards in those communities. Practical implications This paper proposes alternatives to resource extractivism with options for climate compatible development in small islands that are health-promoting and build community resilience in the face of increasing threats from climate change. Originality/value Extractivism is a new concept that has not previously been applied to understanding health implications of resource exploitation thorough the conduit of climate change. Small-island countries are simultaneously exposed to widespread extractivism, including of materials contributing to global climate change, and are among the most vulnerable to the hazards that climate change brings.