The Extinction of Paradise: Climate Change and the Maldives

By: David Nacmanie

After living for more than two years in the small island nation of Samoa, I am well aware of the many challenges facing these small island states. From devastating tropical cyclones and tsunamis to water shortages and heat waves, these countries face big challenges with few resources.

Samoa

Samoa, photo credit David Nacmanie

One of the lowest things on the priority list is the threat posed by sea-level rise. The Samoan islands, a volcanic archipelago with peaks stretching thousands of feet into the heavens, are not in danger of disappearing if the sea rises a few feet. However, the Republic of the Maldives is. Consisting of little more than coral atolls atop the peaks of the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, the highest point in the country is a staggering 7 feet 10 inches. The standard residential ceiling height in the United States is only 8 feet. The highest point in the entire country could fit inside your living room.

The Republic of the Maldives is preparing for cultural extinction. Maldivians are watching their country disappear below the sea day after day. Beach erosion is a serious problem, with 97 percent of inhabited islands reporting beach erosion. Whether you think climate change is anthropogenic or natural climatic variation, the Maldivians are faced with the problem of the world.

The C2C Fellows Network recruited colleges, student clubs, non-governmental organizations, and faith organizations across the nation to host “A National Conversation on Democracy and Climate,” on April 17, including a coordinated screening of the documentary, “The Island President.” This film tells the story of the Maldivian situation with respect to climate challenge and political corruption. More than 116 groups have signed on to participate in this event. Following the coordinated screening, participants will join a live broadcast with the movie’s director Jon Shenk; Thilmeeza Hussain, former U.N. deputy permanent representative to the Maldives; and May Boeve, CEO of 350.org. Participants will have the opportunity to converse live with these change-makers and with others across the country.

Samoa

Samoa, photo credit David Nacmanie

The event has garnered international attention, with participants joining the conversation from as far away as Australia.

“With billions of dollars of fossil-fuel money now hijacking American politics and blocking climate action, this is a conversation for all of us,” said Eban Goodstein, Ph.D., director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy and the C2C Fellows Network. Together, Bard and the C2C Fellows Network hope to bring greater attention to the challenges of climate change and its most visible target, the Maldives.

The Hudson Valley may not be worried about being swallowed up by the Hudson River, but lower Manhattan is at as much risk as the Maldives, sitting at zero to 7 feet above sea level. If we fail to do something to stop climate change, the flooding we saw during Superstorm Sandy will return — permanently.

David Nacmanie is the National Project Coordinator for the C2C Fellows at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy.  Please direct media inquiries and questions to Mr. Nacmanie at climate@bard.edu or 845-752-4515.

About C2CFellows

C2C Fellows are young sustainability leaders from across the country committed to pursuing meaningful careers in sustainable business and politics. Leaders join the national network through participation in a weekend long leadership workshop, and remain engaged with the network moving forward into their careers after college. For more information, visit www.c2cfellows.org.