See the film
Try as she might, Auntie Ruth can’t imagine a documentary titled The American President that focuses mostly on climate change.
But there are other countries.
Take the island nation known as the Maldives. These are the islands that appear in your dreams, or in those travel brochures that are too luscious to be believed, or in movies when the ultra rich and beautiful dash off in their private jets to someplace obscurely tropical for sex, food, banter. An archipelago of about 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean, hotels on the Maldives are six-star; the underwater sea life makes Hawaii's look ho-hum; and the humid weather is tempered by breezes off an ocean that is insanely blue.
Insanely blue and rising.
It was ruled for decades by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a dictator who imprisoned and tortured his opposition, including Mohamed Nasheed—Gayoom’s successor and the focal point of the 2011 documentary The Island President. Nasheed tackles climate change immediately upon taking office. This isn’t the American president; the urgency here is first-term and immediate: Seawater is seeping into the Maldives’ groundwater and the erosion of 300 feet of beach opens the film. This isn’t your father’s climate change; this is the kind that sends a chain-smoking Nasheed to the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference where, in confronting other delegates on an agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, he’d look them in the eye and say, “If we don’t do this, we’re all going to die.”
He compares climate change to the Nazi invasion. Perhaps, with Hurricane Sandy, drought, forest fires and the annual occurrence of 100-year weather events, the comparisons to Poland in 1939 deserve more consideration. Eh?
Nasheed speaks dramatically again and again at the UN, before 350.org and the summit. An agreement is brokered at the end of “Hopenhagen,” one termed “meaningful” by the United States, if few others. It came nowhere near Nasheed’s early call to limit carbon to 350 ppm and the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees. Still, this charismatic politician—practical, strategic, aware of what he can accomplish on the international stage and what he cannot—calls his mother at home in the Maldives and elatedly shares this: “Some process is still alive.”
The postscript to the film is stark: Nasheed was deposed by a coup last February and is currently in jail for what appears to Ruth to be trumped up charges. See the film.