The plight of the Maldives poses an eschatological question as much as an environmental one. When will the world end? How can we prepare for it? In that respect, we are all Maldivians. The islanders just happen to be among the first groups to contemplate these questions seriously. But that’s not to say each and every Maldivian spends his or her day preoccupied with sea levels. Ahmed Abbas, one of Nasheed’s longtime friends and the political cartoonist for the magazine Sangu, told me that Nasheed was overreacting. “We have been here for 3,000 years,” Abbas said as we drank espressos and ate ice cream one afternoon at a cafe in Malé. “Coral is our base. If one millimeter of water comes up, then one millimeter of coral goes up, too. So don’t worry.”He may be flip, but he's not stupid. He should continue to enjoy his espresso and ice cream with considerable peace of mind.
The Maldives is getting a lot of publicity as potentially the first nation to go under the sea. Their president has announced, on the one hand, that the Maldives aims to be the first carbon free country in the world; on the other hand he wants to find a location to set up a new Maldives - moving across town, as it were, en mass - having proposed moving 300,000 Maldivians to India, Sri Lanka or Australia. They're welcome to come here, if they really want to, I have no objections at all, but I don't want them to be hasty in swapping their beautiful surroundings and established culture for a life in the 'burbs of Australia.
If the PR messages are mixed, so too is the science.
Actually, there is no science to support any pending notion of the Maldives drowning not waving.
The beat-up is based entirely on the issue of potential raising sea levels, ipso facto, the Maldives will go under, surely?
Well, no, it seems not.
Oceans don't rise unilaterally or uniformly. It doesn't take a science degree or even much nous to appreciate that point right off the top.
Of course, the Apocalypse profiteers (and a big cheerio to our friend Al Gore!) adore the promotional value of the Maldives being sunk. The image of all those pretty islands is almost as endearing as an endangered panda.
"in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Al Gore encouraged Congress to pass legislation reducing carbon emissions by citing Nasheed’s initiative as just one example of what could happen if they failed to act. Joe Romm, the author of the blog Climate Progress, told me: “There is no saving the Maldives. They are wise to find a new place.”
Real scientists are none too impressed with the Maldives new narrative as first victim of climate change / global warming / extreme weather events. Those who really have a clue seem a bit appalled by the Maldives' poster child status.
"Paul Kench, a coastal geomorphologist at the University of Auckland, has made eight expeditions to the Maldives to research how islands form and evolve. Kench first traveled to Baa Atoll, north of Malé, in 1996, frustrated, he said, “with the perception that sea levels will go up and simply drown them. No one had established any real science.” He has discovered since then that both seasonal weather patterns and periodic wave events — like the tsunami in 2004 and, in late 2007, a highly unusual, 20-centimeter surge in sea level recorded throughout the Maldives — alter the surface, the beaches and the height of the islands in unforeseen ways. In particular, he found, “the notion that the Maldives are going to disappear is a gross overexaggeration. Both the tsunami and the sea-level rise lifted sand from the beach, spread it across the island surface and formed a natural buffer.”
Kench has followed news of Nasheed’s planned exodus with dismay. “It’s a political weapon they have,” he says. “It’s a little bit unfortunate, because they don’t know how to deal with the change. . . . If they withdrew from this notion that ‘We are going to have to jump on a plane and fly to northwest Australia’ and that kind of hyperbole, if they seriously confront the problem, they would get a lot more international assistance.” Talk of catastrophe, he continues, “hijacks all the serious work that needs to be done.” He sees it as a distraction from the careful scientific labor that could find ways to protect the islands."
As indeed is the entire climate debate. Whether protecting islands, animals or habitat or finding alternative energy sources that pack the same punch and utility as petroleum, there is much real and expensive science to be done, yet hundreds of billions are being thrown away on the whimsical, vain goal of "saving the world" by reversing the temperature by one degree in one hundred years time. It would be difficult to invent a more perverse distraction to the problems of water, food, energy and geographic security. But, there you go, doomsayers have won the most death dealing PR exercise in all of recorded human, economic and scientific history.
Being poster child for disaster isn't quite the success the president might have been gunning for:
"Nasheed’s political opponents claim that his proposition to move has cost the Maldives international respect. “We are a country so dependent on tourism,” Mohamed Hussain Shareef, Gayoom’s spokesman, told me. “The minute Nasheed says we are about to sink and that we’re moving, my phones started ringing off the hook with tour operators asking questions. We can’t go back to them and to investors now and say, ‘Everything is O.K.’Apparently "come to the Maldives before we drown" isn't a compelling business or tourist message.
"all islands and coastlines are formed differently, a fact sure to be explored more in years to come as planners develop more property in areas susceptible to rising sea levels. This is why Kench, the coastal geomorphologist, believes that the Maldives aren’t nearly as doomed as others think. He knew he was on to something big when he returned to the Maldives after the tsunami and found that the wave had actually raised the island surface as much as 30 centimeters, and did so as far as 60 meters inland. “This is actually building the islands vertically, building ridges that will buffer these islands from sea-level rises,” he says. “That sand is a permanent addition that is now draped among the coconut trees and is going to stay there.”
Other measures also suggest that the Maldives isn't facing oblivion any time soon:
"Steve Nerem, a professor in the aerospace engineering sciences department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, measures sea levels. Since 1993, when he began mapping the oceans using satellite technology, sea levels have risen an average of 3.3 millimeters a year. But around the Maldives, they have risen an average of 2.2 millimeters."The fact of real data doesn't stop Nerem in his tracks. On the contrary, he is irrational about things that might never happen.
There is “all kinds of local variability” in the data, Nerem says. “The bottom line is that we can’t say with any kind of certainty what’s going to happen. But there’s lots of reasons to be concerned that it is going to be a big problem. The data doesn’t rule out a meter of sea-level rise” by 2100, he explains. “The data does rule out zero.”
Of course, the data he speaks of comes from computer models. He ignores the data taken at the scene of the would-be crime of the millennium.
Then there's scientist Nils-Axel Momer, former president of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution, and something of an expert in such matters. He has studied the Maldives, personally visiting the islands at least half a dozen times. He proved beyond doubt that the sea there had not risen in half a century. Momer used real life measuring instruments on site, poles stuck in the briny, in real time, in the real world. All very regressive of him. He probably even got his feet wet more often than not. What a fool, hey?
Wanted: a new home for my country