Former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed speaking to reporters at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. Photo by: Adam Welz.
Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, told the world on The Daily Show Monday night: “Just don’t be so silly” about climate change. Nasheed, who in February was forced to resign his presidency, is visiting the U.S. to meet with government officials as well as to push for climate action during the release of a new documentary film about his presidency, entitled The Island President.
During his three years in office, Nasheed was arguably the world’s most impassioned leader on the issue of climate change. The Maldives, an archipelago of around 2,000 islands in the Indian Ocean, includes some of world’s most low-lying islands. Nasheed has argued that if global society allows the world to warm by 2 degrees Celsius, the current pledge made by governments around the world, it will force the abandonment of the Maldives as the islands sink under rising sea levels. Before its ouster, his government even looked at purchasing land abroad as a home new for his people.
In fact, Nasheed told the host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, that the impacts of climate change are already forcing populations to be relocated from some islands.
“Climate change is an issue that is happening now. We have sixteen islands that need relocation; we have water contamination issues; we have fishing problems; the coral bleaching issue… there’s a whole list of things that are happening now and people have to take note of that,” he said.
Press photo for The Island President: President Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed in the Maldives. Photo by: Chiara Goia.
A government coup in February led to Nasheed’s resignation as president, which he says was at gunpoint, although the opposition says it was voluntary. Nasheed argues that the coup was organized by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the former dictator of the Maldives, and has referred to the current president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, as a “puppet president” with Gayoom holding the power. Nasheed has also stated that the current government has attempted to have him killed. Before becoming president, Nasheed was held as a political prisoner by Gayoom, and was tortured twice.
The coup came after Nasheed’s administration controversially arrested a judge, who they argued was protecting past officials under the dictatorship from corruption charges.
However, Nasheed told Jon Stewart that the political fight in the Maldives was not about his presidency, but about democracy. He has urged the new government to hold democratic elections before the end of the year.
On climate change, however, Nasheed stressed that the issue went far beyond his nation.
“It’s not just the Maldives. More than a quarter of the world’s population is living on coastal areas. Manhattan is as high as the Maldives actually,” he said.
The documentary,The Island President, follows Nasheed from his victory in the Maldives’ first democratic election in 2008 to his battle at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009 for a climate treaty that would preserve his homeland. Despite the lackluster outcome at Copenhagen, Nasheed says it was a meaningful step forward.
“I would argue Copenhagen was a victory; for the first time the United States, China, India, Brazil—big emitting countries—agreed to limit their carbon emissions. They were not able to agree upon the amounts of it, but they agreed on the principle of limiting it,” he told Stewart.
Jon Stewart asked Nasheed if some developing countries were dragging their feet on climate change, because they keen to mimic the West’s industrial revolution.
“Simply because the United States and the industrial world has been poisoning the atmosphere for the last 300 years, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the world should be doing exactly that. There are low carbon development strategies, and renewable energies; the technology is there. I hope that people would start recognizing this and come to a more amicable understanding,” Nasheed said, adding. “Just don’t be so silly.”
Still Nasheed, who appeared optimistic despite a lack of movement on climate change, noted that current agreements by the world’s governments to limit average temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would still doom his home.
“The Maldives won’t be around. It’s no good for us anyway. But we were hoping that from 2 degrees there will be a possibility that we may be able to come to 1.5 degrees [Celsius],” he said.
While governments around the world have agreed to keep temperatures from rising above the 2 degree Celsius level, they have not yet put forward ambitious enough cuts to achieve even that target. If all emissions cuts put forward to date are achieved, a big ‘if’, the world would still warm around 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit), a level that most scientists consider dangerous.
Nasheed told the audience to “please watch the film” and “be concerned [about climate change].”
“I’m afraid politicians only do the things that their people tell them to do, and I’m afraid the people of the United States are not telling their politicians to be concerned about climate change,” he said.
(04/03/2012) An Australian court last week ruled that climate change was not reason enough to halt the $6.3 billion Wandoan coal mine in Australia in a landmark case. Swiss coal mining company Xstrata succeeded in defeating a challenge from the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth and local farmers, which argued that the mine should be halted due to its resulting carbon emissions.
(04/02/2012) Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved oil spill clean-up plans by Royal Dutch Shell Oil in the Beaufort Sea, paving the way for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic to begin as soon this year. The Interior’s approval was blasted by environmentalists, who contend that oil companies have no viable way of dealing with a spill in the icy, hazardous conditions of the Arctic, far from large-scale infrastructure. Shell, which has spent $4 billion to date to gain access to the Arctic, must still be granted final permits for drilling.
(03/28/2012) As North America recovers from what noted meteorologist Jeff Masters has called “the most incredible spring heatwave in U.S. and Canadian recorded history,” a new paper argues that climate change is playing an important role in a world that appears increasingly pummeled by extreme weather. Published in Nature Climate Change, the paper surveys recent studies of climate change and extreme weather and finds “strong evidence” of a link between a warming world and the frequency and intensity of droughts, floods, and heatwaves—such as the one that turned winter into summer in the U.S.
(03/22/2012) Central U.S. and parts of Canada have seen over a thousand record temperatures shattered over the past week and a half, as an abnormally-long and bizarrely-hot warm spell moves across portions of North America. The direct cause of the weird weather is a blocked high pressure system, but as the U.S. experiences what may be the warmest March on record, meteorologists say climate change may be playing a role in the severity of the heatwave.
(02/13/2012) Last year the Arctic, which is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth due to global climate change, experienced its warmest twelve months yet. According to recent data by NASA, average Arctic temperatures in 2011 were 2.28 degrees Celsius (4.1 degrees Fahrenheit) above those recorded from 1951-1980. As the Arctic warms, imperiling its biodiversity and indigenous people, researchers are increasingly concerned that the region will hit climatic tipping points that could severely impact the rest of the world. A recent commentary in Nature Climate Change highlighted a number of tipping points that keep scientists awake at night.
(01/30/2012) NASA has created a new animation showing global temperatures on a map of the Earth from 1880-2011. On the map, blues represent temperatures lower than baseline averages, while reds indicate temperatures higher than the average. As the 131 years pass, the map turns from bluish-white to increasingly yellow and red. Caused by the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, agricultural practices, and other human impacts, climate change has currently raised temperatures 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the Industrial Revolution average.
(01/12/2012) A new study in Science argues that reducing methane and black carbon emissions would bring global health, agriculture, and climate benefits. While such reductions would not replace the need to reduce CO2 emissions, they could have the result of lowering global temperature by 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degree Fahrenheit) by mid-century, as well as having the added benefits of saving lives and boosting agricultural yields. In addition, the authors contend that dealing with black carbon and methane now would be inexpensive and politically feasible.
(12/06/2011) New research announced at the 17th UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa finds that under current pledges for reducing emissions the global temperature will rise by 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) from historic levels, reports the AFP. This is nearly double world nations’ pledge to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The report flies in the face of recent arguments by the U.S. and others at Durban that current pledges are adequate through 2020.
(12/05/2011) A new methodology to tease out how much current climate change is linked to human activities has added to the consensus that behind global warming is us. The study, published in Nature Geoscience found that humans have caused at least three-quarters (74 percent) of current warming, while also determining that warming has actually been slowed down by atmospheric aerosols, including some pollutants, which reflect sunlight back into space.
(12/04/2011) Total carbon emissions for the first time hit 10 billion metric tons (36.7 billion tons of CO2) in 2010, according to new analysis published by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) in Nature Climate Change. In the past two decades (since the reference year for the Kyoto Protocol: 1990), emissions have risen an astounding 49 percent. Released as officials from 190 countries meet in Durban, South Africa for the 17th UN Summit on Climate Change to discuss the future of international efforts on climate change, the study is just the latest to argue a growing urgency for slashing emissions in the face of rising extreme weather incidents and vanishing polar sea ice, among other impacts.
(11/29/2011) In opening the 17th UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa yesterday, Jacob Zuma, president of the host country said that delegates must remember what is at stake.
(11/13/2011) Not known for alarmism and sometimes criticized for being too optimistic, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that without bold action in the next five years the world will lock itself into high-emissions energy sources that will push climate change beyond the 2 degrees Celsius considered relatively ‘safe’ by many scientists and officials.