Island President: Mohamed Nasheed and a People’s Fight for Survival

President Nasheed of the Maldives briefs repor...

President Nasheed of the Maldives briefs reporters during the Copenhagen climate change talks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On February 7, 2012, Mohamed Nasheed, the democratically elected President of the Maldives and an outspoken climate change activist, was forced to resign his office due to the threat of violence from a coup d’etat lead by military forces loyal to the former dictator. A documentary, The Island President recounts his rise to power and fight to get a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement that recognized the science of climate change at the UNFCC COP 15 in Copenhagen in December of 2009.

Nasheed endured 30 years of a brutal dictatorship where he was arrested 12 times, tortured twice and spent 18 months in a 5 x 3 corrugated iron cell in solitary confinement. In a considerable victory for human rights, the people took to the streets. And in 2008, Mohamed Nasheed became the democratically elected President of the Maldives.

As President, Nasheed soon found that all of the issues effecting the Maldives, a fragile, low-lying nation made up approximately 2000 islands, had the same source problem–global climate change. Since he was no stranger to fighting for survival, Nasheed turned his efforts to the colossal task of battling this adversary.

“If we can’t stop the seas rising, if you allow for a 2-degree rise in temperature, you are actually agreeing to kill us. I have an objective, which is to save the nation,” Nasheed said.

The film chronicles his efforts leading up to and behind the scenes at the Copenhagen summit. Using all of his political and diplomatic tools, Nasheed forms alliances and tries his best to persuade the world’s political leaders; including India, China and the US, to arrive at an agreement based on what the climate science dictates, a return of atmospheric carbon dioxide to a level of 350ppm. What Nasheed learns is that while he is fighting for his people’s survival, many of the world’s biggest polluters are fighting for the right to conduct business as usual. This leaves you at a good place to ponder whether global climate change itself or the geo-political establishment is the bigger threat to the Maldives survival. Though the conference fell short of getting a legally binding agreement, Nasheed became known as an instant leader in the climate justice movement.

“What happens to the Maldives today, will happen to New York tomorrow,” warns Nasheed.

Because the climate system is one with so much inertia, the climate will continue to warm, even after greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized or reduced. Carbon dioxide has a residence time in our atmosphere of about 100 years. And sea level will also continue to rise for hundreds of years after CO2 emissions are stabilized.  Heeding the warning from those on the front lines of climate change may just save us all.

 

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James Hansen on Cap-and-Trade, Tipping Points and Where We Go From Here

Image in public domain from NASA. http://www.n...

Image via Wikipedia

In a recent interview, post- the COP15 Conference, the nation’s top climate scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen discussed his views on cap and trade, tipping points and how we can move forward in the aftermath of Copenhagen.

Hansen also has a new book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity where he discusses these issues at length.

The entire interview with Amy Goodman is visible at the end of this post. I’ve pulled out some highlights.

Hansen says, “I’m actually quite pleased with what happened at Copenhagen, because now we have basically a blank slate. We have China and the United States talking to each other, and it’s absolutely essential. Those are the two big players that have to come to an agreement. But it has to be an honest agreement, one which addresses the basic problem. And that is that fossil fuels are the cheapest source of energy on the planet. And unless we address that and put a price on the emissions, we can’t solve the problem.”

On Cap and Trade: “Cap and trade, they attempt to put a cap on different sources of carbon dioxide emissions. They say there’s a limit on how much a given industry in a country can emit. But the problem is that the emissions just go someplace else. That’s what happened after Kyoto, and that’s what would happen again, if—as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they will be burned someplace. You know, the Europeans thought they actually reduced their emissions after Kyoto, but what happened was the products that had been made in their countries began to be made in other countries, which were burning the cheapest form of fossil fuel, so the total emissions actually increased.”

But what you need to do—and many people call that a tax, but in fact the way that it should be done is to give all of the money that’s collected in a fee, that should be across the board on oil, gas and coal, collect that money at the mine or at the port of entry from the fossil fuel companies, and then distribute that to the public on a per capita basis to legal residents of the country. Then the person that does—that has less than average carbon emissions would actually make money from the process, and it would stimulate the economy. It would give the public the funds that they need in order to invest in low-carbon technologies. The next time they buy a vehicle, they should get a low-emission one. They should insulate their homes. Such actions. And those people who do that will come out ahead. That’s—the economists agree that that’s the way you should address the problem, with a price on carbon. Otherwise, the emissions will just continue to go up.”

On Tipping Points: “Well, there are tipping points in the climate system, where we can push the system beyond a point where the dynamics begins to take over. For example, in the case of an ice sheet, once it begins to disintegrate and slide into the ocean, you’ve passed the point where you can stop it. So that’s what we have to avoid.

Another tipping point is in the survival of species. As we begin to put pressure on species and move the climate zone so that some of the species can’t survive because they can only live within certain climate parameters, because species depend upon each other, you can drive an ecosystem such that when some species go extinct, then the entire ecosystem will collapse. So you don’t want to push the system that far.

And these tipping points are not hypothetical. We know from the earth’s history that these have happened in the past, especially when we’ve had large global warmings. We’ve driven more than half the species on the planet to extinction. And then, over hundreds of thousands and millions of years, new species come into being. But for any time scale that we can imagine, we would be leaving a much more desolate planet for our children and grandchildren and future generations. So we don’t want to pass those tipping points.”

On Atmospheric CO2:What we have now is 387 parts per million. But we’re going to have to bring that down to 350 parts per million or less. And that’s still possible, provided we phase out coal emissions over the next few decades. That’s possible. We would also have to prohibit unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and oil shale.”

On Moving Forward: “What needs to happen right now—we have this great opportunity this spring, I would say, to have discussions in the House and Senate about what really needs to be done to solve this problem. And it’s not cap and trade with offsets. We can prove that that’s completely ineffectual. What we have to do is put a price on carbon, and the money that’s collected needs to be given to the public, not used for boondoggles, like Congress is taking—plans to take the money from cap and trade that’s collected in selling the permits to pollute and to use that money for things like clean coal or to give the money back to the polluters. That won’t solve the problem. We have to give the money to the public.”

“There were a couple of encouraging things in Copenhagen. For one thing, Al Gore made a clear statement that a carbon price is a better solution than cap and trade. And John Kerry also indicated that he had an open mind on that question. So that’s why I say the discussions in the next few months are very important, because the way the United States goes is going to determine the way the world goes, I think.”

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15-Year-Old Maldives Climate Ambassador Asks World Leaders to Take on Climate Change

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP15, opened Monday in Copenhagen, Denmark. One country on the front lines of climate change is the Maldives, a low-lying island nation in the Indian Ocean with 80% of its land lying three feet or less above sea level.

The Maldives President, Mohamed Nasheed, has been one of the most outspoken world leaders to warn of the dire consequences of climate change. In October, Nasheed held a special cabinet meeting underwater to call for global action to combat climate.

Here, President Nasheed pleas for other nations to embrace the practice of carbon neutrality. “At the moment, every country arrives at the negotiations seeking to keep their own emissions as high as possible and never to make commitments unless someone else does first. This is the logic of a madhouse, a recipe for collective suicide.”

15-year-old Mohamed Axam Maumoon is a climate ambassador from the Maldives. He took part in the Children’s Climate Forum organized by UNICEF and the Copenhagen City Council. On Monday, he met with the Danish prime minister. See his amazing interview below with Democracy Now! ‘s host Amy Goodman.



I hope you are as inspired by Axam as I am.

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Al Gore and Political Will in the Concrete Forest

As I descended off I-95 into the concrete forest that now covers the city of Miami, I pondered the artificial shade. Darkness permeated while the sun rested high in the sky.

Al Gore at Miami Book Fair Construction raged on even in the early morning hours of Saturday. As the construction workers labored, the homeless slept. The forest was still, despite the jack hammer vibration penetrating the silence.

I looked upward at the pervasive high-rises that the city touts have surpassed 60% occupancy, although that is not obvious from appearance. Too bad that Miami can’t house some of its homeless in these buildings. It would be good public relations for the city, not like the messy shantytown farther up the road.

But that would never happen in the concrete forest. Here, corruption and bad political decisions spread like the invasive melaleuca trees that swallow the Everglades to the west.

It is amidst this concrete forest, I had come to the Miami Book Fair to see former VP, Al Gore promote his book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis(Rodale Books, $26.99).

Gore’s presentation was articulate, engaging and funny. He discussed the more than thirty summits he’s convened around the world, bringing together the eminent voices of climate change science. The good news, Gore told us, is that we have everything we need right now to solve the climate crisis. In his book he outlines some of the solutions from renewable energy to CCS to soil initiatives. We have everything we need, except perhaps ‘political will’. Gore closed his presentation with his classic line, “ but political will is a renewable resource”. Al Gore at Miami Book Fair

As I held that thought in my head, I wanted to ask him about this line he’s been using since before the film, An Inconvenient Truth,  “political will is a renewable resource”. We all lived that. Last November we had a historic election. We voted in unprecedented numbers for change.

We changed our political leadership but climate change still sits on the backburner in the Senate. The US with 5% of the world’s population still produces the majority of the total greenhouse gas emissions. There are some figures that show China- who now holds almost all of our manufacturing jobs- dumped more heat trapping gases into the planet’s atmosphere in 2009. Although looked at on a per capita basis, the USA still holds the award for world’s largest polluter.

We know the historic legislation, H254: American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed by the House this summer doesn’t adequately addresses the severity of this crisis we are facing.

Al Gore at Miami Book Fair “We need to go quickly and together,” Gore said. Yes, as we approach December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen the world’s population agrees, but does the US government? And, how do we get there with the democratic leadership we have? That is the question I wanted answered. Surely, Gore must have some opinion.

But, before I got a chance to ask him, his publishers had me pulled out of the book signing line because I was holding a DVD of An Inconvenient Truth. The line was only for people who purchased copies of their book, Our Choice.

Thus, I am left with my unanswered question and a few photo souvenirs.


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