Paradise for Sale – Reading about Nauru

Well. This was not happy reading time. At all.

Nauru is a small, isolated place. Its economy is almost entirely based on phosphate deposits that originate from sea-bird poop. These deposits made Nauru one of the richest countries in the world in the 1970s, but a combo of dwindling supplies, market adjustments and bad investments have sunk that ship. Today, the country deals with a devastated landscape from the mining, high unemployment, and the distinction of being one of the most obese nations on the planet. And to add to all of that, it’s now home to Australian-run detention camps for refugees and asylum seekers, which the Aussies creepily call “The Pacific Solution“.

(Image by US Dept of Energy, via Wikimedia Commons)

The title I chose for Nauru, Paradise for Sale: A Parable of Nature, discussed most of the above. It’s a cautionary tale about the many ways our species goes off the rails: greed, imperialism, environmental destruction, the ability to ignore what is happening directly in front of us, what we lose when we sacrifice the future on the altar of Now…the list goes, depressingly, on and on.

I found the book to be informative in a general sense, about how the issues that plague a small country like Nauru are really just lying in wait for the world at large. You can push an ecosystem so far out of balance that things won’t right themselves for a very long time…it’s a lesson we would all be smart to heed. I’m sure we’ll get right on that!

However, I didn’t really come away feeling like I’d learned much about the people of Nauru. The authors of the book took a very high-level view; they certainly were not dismissive, but I never got a sense that they made a deep connection with anyone on the island. I don’t think that was a goal of the book, so it’s not really a criticism – just a little off the mark for my mission of trying to get a sense of real life in a place.


Country #16 – Nauru

Nauru is one of the smallest countries in the world, and my 16th stop.
Out on its own in the Pacific Ocean, this tiny country struggles with some big problems: obesity and profound environmental issues to name just a few.

Let’s see what more we can learn…