The Island President – Movie Review

A message in favor of the environment from someone who really means it.

When Mohamed Nasheed tells you he cares about global warming, he brings that message from a decidedly personal point of view. Global warming is melting the ice caps and causing a rise in sea level. That much is well known.

However, few know that President Nasheed’s country of the Maldives rapidly is becoming submerged. Another three-foot rise in the ocean and the tropical paradise of the Maldives will be under water. This film is his message.

The Maldives occupy an archipelago of some 1200 islands in the Indian Ocean. About 200 of them are occupied by some 400,000 people. The highest point in the nation is two and a half meters above sea level. The average elevation is a mere one and one-half meters above sea level and that precious difference between land and sea is disappearing every day.

Nasheed’s life as president is largely visiting the island with the latest crisis and observing the latest erosion of vast areas of beachfront by the steadily encroaching waves. As people are displaced, they migrate to higher land, although the term “higher” is relative. The islands are already to the point where a bad storm could wash over the entire populated area. This would render the republic one entire disaster area.

The young, energetic and charismatic Nasheed took over from the former strong man, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, after years of imprisonment and torture. His mandate was to take his message to the world in an effort to curb the production of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases cause the earth’s atmosphere to hold in the heat of the sun rather than radiate it back into space. CO2 is the chief villain because it is the immediate by product of the combustion of fossil fuels (oil and natural gas). The main use of fossil fuels in the world is to provide heat for buildings and industry and to produce electricity.

The equation is: more buildings and more power production equals good-bye Maldives. Although China is the rising star in fossil fuel consumption, the USA, Russia and the rest of the world’s developing countries have long since led the way to development via CO2 production.

This is the rub. When the USA and Europe lobby China and less developed countries to stop building fossil fuel power plants the result is a cold shoulder of epic proportions. These countries have studied the Western world for a long time and they like what they see. More energy means more stuff and more stuff is good. China alone is currently building power plants at a rate unprecedented in the history of humankind and they show no tendency to stop.

The film culminates in Nasheed’s mouse-that-roared quest at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 20099, where he staged a monumental battle to get an international agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. This film is not just an advertisement for the environment it is one of the best political documentaries ever made.

The reason for this is that film maker Jon Shenk’s film crew had the complete support of Nasheed and his staff. The members of the film crew were actually named as members of the Maldivian delegation. This gave them unprecedented access to the back-room dealings, and beatings, that take place in top-level international deal making.

Although Nasheed’s delegation failed to achieve a concrete commitment at Copenhagen, they did succeed in getting a working agreement between China, India and the USA to reduce CO2. Anybody who takes up a battle to reduce CO2 is taking up arms against what may be the richest and most powerful consortium in the world: oil and gas suppliers.

Comprising a total wealth and political outreach that actually outstrips any country including the US, this corporate machine depends on world fossil fuel consumption for its very life.

It is not going to die easily even when its prosperity inevitably means further global warming. Warming has been associated with increased storms and ocean acidification as well as direct negative impacts on flora and fauna. By the time we fully understand the impact of a few degrees increase in average air and water temperatures it may be too late.

President Nasheed was forced to resign in February, 2012 (last month) following a spate of protests and the erosion of his political power at home. In spite of his abdication he remains a powerful for the environment and man that cannot be ignored in his home country. He has made friends in high places and has given a personal perspective to the lethal effects of global warming. His work will go on.

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Directed by: Jon Shenk
Featuring: Mohamed Nasheed
Release Date: March 28, 2012
MPAA: Rated PG for thematic elements, some violent content and smoking
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Country: USA
Language: English