While Sri Lanka is benefitting from a rising tide of tourism, the Maldives (www.visitmaldives.com), an archipelago nation of nearly 1,200 tiny islands scattered 642 miles to its southwest in the Arabian sea, has been sounding the alarm about literal rising tides.
The award-winning 2011 documentary, The Island President, is a compelling, well-worth-watching account of the efforts of Maldives’ then-president Mohamed Nasheed to help generate international awareness and action around climate change.
As one of the world’s lowest-altitude countries, with an average height of less than five feet above sea level, the Maldives would be one of the first nations in the world to be completely submerged if the oceans continue to rise with global warming.
Some calculations, which don’t necessarily take into account coral growth and the degrees to which islands can rise with sea level, not strictly be overtaken, suggest that this holiday paradise could become a real-life Atlantis in less than 50 years. But the film’s hook is really more a conceptual stroke of genius than an imminent death knell.
Nasheed and filmmaker Jon Shenk deserve great praise for developing such a dramatic way of educating people about the dangers of unchecked climate change. Their serious, thoughtful film unforgettably juxtaposes the stunning natural beauty of the Maldives with the science of its potential demise.
While The Island President was meant to inspire environmentalism, it’s a little-kept secret that its message has been amplified, simplified, and exaggerated by some bottom-feeding, bottom-line-oriented travel promoters.
In two and a half quick days on the islands, several different natives who work in tourism told me that “Come see the Maldives before they don’t exist” has become a cynical subtext of high end resort marketing. It’s an approach that’s gives a sneaky sidelong glance to environmentalism while leveraging consumers’ desire to have “exclusive” experiences.
If you were deeply concerned about reducing your carbon foot-print, would you make a special point of flying to a far-flung corner of the earth for a luxury vacation?
While climate change is a scientific reality that individuals, businesses, and governments absolutely must help address, the Maldives islands are highly unlikely to disappear any year soon.