Boyfriend and I, like most Blue Bottle coffee-drinking, bicycle-riding, cinema-watching, but also generally time-wasting intellectuals, are often possessed by the notion that it is up to us to change the world. In one such delusional instance, we were discussing Australia’s immigrant situation, and the plight of refugees the world over, in light of the tragic boat capsizing off the coast of Indonesia. We were talking about how Australia tried to solve the problem by sending refugees to the various pacific islands that surround it. Which is when Boyfriend decided to go off topic for just a moment, so he could offer this:
“Did you know that for nearly a decade Nauru was the world’s richest country in terms of per capita income?”
Oh, hang on. What the bleep is Nauru, you ask?
Nauru is the world’s smallest republic, seated on an island that measures 21 square kilometers. It is also the second least populated country in the world after Vatican City, with fewer than ten thousand people. And in the years after its independence in 1968 up until the late 1980s, it was among the richest countries in the world in terms of per capita income.
Here’s how: Nauru is located in the Pacific Ocean, to the North-East of Australia. As a result of this geographical feature, the island saw an abundant presence of sea birds, and was awfully rich in guano. (What’s guano? Aha! I thought you’d never ask!)
Now guano is an amazing source of phosphate, one of the key ingredients in fertilizers. So starting in 1968, Nauruans zealously started strip-mining the entire island for phosphate, making themselves a pile of money on the export market. The downside? They didn’t plan for the effects of this mining on the environment, and they didn’t invest the money they were earning in infrastructure, or in creating jobs for the future. Nauru today is a completely barren island where nothing grows. The rate of unemployment is 90%. Oh, and the sea birds that used to provide all that guano? Yeah, they all kinda died as a result of the environmental damage the mining caused.
So I guess this one’s a sad story, but fascinating all the same. And in any case, it’s what we learn from it that’s important, yeah? That every time a seagull shits on your freshly painted Adirondack, scrape it off, put it in a bottle, and store it away in your cellar. When you have enough, you can turn it in for a fat wad of cash.