“If things go business as usual, we will not live, We will die.” Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed in a speech to the UN Climate Change Summit on September 22.
It is a truism of climate change, as with war, poverty and economic collapse, that so often it is those who have the least control over the situation who suffer the most. This fact is brought home to the world again this week by the President of the Maldives. His gorgeous island nation in the Indian Ocean is under threat from rising ocean levels brought on by climate change.The highest point in the island chain is a less than six feet above sea level (1.8 meters), leaving the entire nation of over 300,000 inhabitants vulnerable if scientists’ predictions of a three-foot rise in sea levels by the end of this century is even close to accurate. It is estimated that, at current rate of global warming, his entire country will be gone by the end of the century. The Maldivian government has instituted several efforts to model climate change mitigation, including a tax on tourists to fund green programs, experiments with alternative energy and carbon storage, and an ambitious goal for the entire country to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020. Yet those efforts have been stymied by the decline in tourism income, attributed to the global financial downturn. What’s a small country to do?
Mr. Nasheed’s call to action is given further clout by virtue of the president’s history: a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, he spent six years in jail or work camps during a long campaign to bring human rights and democracy to the Maldives. Inspired by the words and work of Mahatma Gandhi, he became the first democratically-elected head of the nation in 2008, running on a platform of change in the face of social inequity in the nation.
President Nasheed’s speech comes as hope is faltering for a strong climate pact to emerge out of the pivotal Copenhagen talks in December. Finger pointing and scapegoating are easier than accepting that some tough decisions have to be made and action has to be taken…fast. Nasheed states, “”The threat posed by climate change is so now acute, the science is so clear, the solution so apparent, and the cost-benefits analysis of action and inaction so alarming, that such horse trading and brinkmanship must be left in the past.”
With health care reform, war, the recession and other concerns making claims on the the United States’ attention, now is the time to stay informed, stay focused, and keep up the pressure on our politicians so that smaller nations do not lose the corner of the world they call home.
Photo: Nattu via Flickr, Creative Commons license