Maldives President and Climate Change Activist Resigns Under Pressure


Underwater press conference, Maldives climate change, go into the water

The president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, has just resigned after facing weeks of violent protests and policy mutiny. The first democratically elected president of the Maldives, Nasheed was also a darling for environmentalists. Back in 2009, Nasheed donned scuba gear and held an underwater press conference to protest inaction on global warming. He even planned for the Maldives to become the first "carbon-neutral" country by 2020. Since most of the Maldives is just a few feet above sea level, climate change could overwhelm this island nation. According to Nasheed, "If we can't save the Maldives today, we can't save London, New York or Hong Kong tomorrow."

But it looks like Nasheed couldn't save the Maldives today. Uprisings began after he ordered the arrest of Judge Abdulla Mohamed, chief judge of the Criminal Court. Mohamed had recently released an illegally detained a government critic, so his arrest was incredibly controversial in the Maldives:

The vice president, Supreme Court, Human Rights Commission, Judicial Services Commission and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights all called for Mohamed to be released.

Nasheed scuba diving underwater press conference Maldives

Outraged, demonstrators took to the streets, and were soon joined by rebel police, Islamic fundamentalists, and a few soldiers. To keep the peace, Nasheed decided to resign and has been replaced by his vice president, a former top official at UNICEF.

Bill McKibben, a leading climate activist (and Keystone XL opponent) founded 350.org, which helped organized the press conference under the sea. He weighs in:

No government has been more forthright in the climate fight than President Nasheed's. He is a hero of our time.

Aside from unknowingly comparing Nasheed to a manipulative, cynical Russian antihero, McKibben overlooks a few inconvenient truths about the Maldives. Like its struggles with Islamic fundamentalism. Only Islam can be practiced publicly in this archipelago. So when a restaurant put up Christmas decorations last year, a riot broke out. (The war on Christmas is real! It's just on the other side of the planet.)

In addition, alcohol is outlawed through the island nation (except for tourists). In December 2011, the tourism ministry banned all spas and sports centers, after Islamists claimed they were fronts for prostitution and featured "lustful music." But perhaps the most troubling practice is that the Maldives publicly flogs women accused of adultery. Nasheed's Foreign Minister, Ahmed Naseem, even blasted the UN for suggesting that the Maldives should ban flogging:

What's there to discuss about flogging?…There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God.

It's clear that residents of Maldives are more worried about the role of religion and the rule of law today than uncertain sea level changes in the future. The Maldives was long portrayed as the first possible casualty of global warming. But Maldivians have more pressing concerns:

An Asian diplomat serving in Male told Reuters on condition of anonymity: "No one remembers the underwater cabinet meeting. They remember Judge Abdulla Mohamed," a reference to the arrested judge.

Meanwhile, concern about climate change is falling amongst Americans. In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, only 25 percent of Americans viewed global warming as a "top policy priority" for 2012. Five years ago, that figure was 38 percent.

Reason on climate change.