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Ousted Maldives president warns
'collective suicide' could be one outcome of rising seas

Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, March 30, 2012

NEW YORK -- The ousted president of the Maldives showed no signs of bitterness yesterday during an appearance at Columbia University, focusing his comments on climate change and sea-level rise rather than the coup that toppled him months ago.

A day after appearing on the "Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS, where he urged Americans to pay attention to how his archipelago in the Indian Ocean is sinking, Mohamed Nasheed warned the audience here that a mass exodus within 50 years is possible.

"Climate change is not something that is going to happen in the future," he said. "In the Maldives, it is happening. Climate change must be addressed, and it must be addressed now."

Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Nasheed stopped by the Ivy League school as part of a U.S. tour to promote a film on global warming, "The Island President," that attempts to put the plight of Maldives front and center. The documentary was finished before he was ousted in January.

By his clock, the world has about seven years to forge an international accord to stem greenhouse gas emissions. Otherwise, his nation -- which sits just 1.5 meters above sea level at its highest point -- will be forced to move en masse, he said.

Some estimates predict the nation's 1,200 islands could be underwater by the end of the century, and
Nasheed wants Americans in particular to wise up.

Already, 16 islands are in need of relocation, he said. Other islands are battling seawater incursions that have contaminated drinking water supplies.

The entire country could be uninhabitable within 50 years, he said.

'Impossible' to relocate a civilization

"We will not be around in the next 50 years," Nasheed said. "It would be such a shame if we are not around during the lifetime of our children and grandchildren."

Given that reality, Nasheed admitted during a question-and-answer session with students that the only option for Maldives may be adapting. He also expressed little faith in the U.N.-brokered process for finding an international agreement, saying the power to limit use of fossil fuels resides with "the people of the United States" and elsewhere, not in more conferences and workshops.

"Don't expect anything from any U.N. conference," he said. "People action and people out in the streets, that can change something."

Nasheed, who once sought publicity for his cause by hosting a Cabinet meeting underwater, returned to this "people action" theme several times. He noted, for instance, the lack of citizen pressure in the United States to discuss climate change in the current election season.

"Politicians only do things that they are told to do by their people," he said. "You have an election coming soon, and climate change doesn't seem to be an election issue."

He added: "I'm afraid the American people are not telling their politicians enough."

Nasheed was also asked to assess whether his nation could survive having to relocate. He answered that many island inhabitants will likely refuse to leave, warning that "collective suicide" is possible if they're not willing to go.

"To move a civilization intact, I don't think that's possible," he said. "You can always relocate a person, but to relocate a culture, a civilization, is impossible."

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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