By Daniel Bosley
This week we’ve travelled from the paved roads of Gaafu Alif’s capital to the sandy streets of its two outlying islands – Kolamaafushi and then Dhevvadhoo.
From Villingili’s motorbikes swerving to test the new road tarred surface, here we found bicycles weaving between mango trees laden with swinging joali. Visiting these smaller islands is always like stepping out of time, out of this world, to a place I wouldn’t have believed really existed before I’d seen it.
Doors left unlocked, shopping on credit, backyards opening onto the beach, no policemen, fruit on the trees, a place where everyone really does know one another’s names.
Still planet Earth, yeah?
But even this far away from ‘the world’, it was hard to stay away from the news this week that the US President Donald Trump had decided to withdraw his country from the Paris Agreement on climate change. Despite the assurances of other leaders that this needn’t be the end of international efforts to rein in runaway global warming, it’s hard to escape the feeling that his decision to seek a “fair” deal that will put “America first” will leave places like the Maldives last.
Worst-case-analyses suggest that the decision by the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases would ensure global temperatures rise by more than 2 degrees over pre-industrial levels by 2100, threatening to consign these low-lying communities to history and fantasy once and for all.
Other major carbon emitters have vowed to continue with their pledges, while Trump’s decision has been roundly condemned as rejecting the future and putting the US on the wrong side of history.
Living in the Maldives, I’ve always found it hard to gauge how most people feel about climate change, and this trip has so far been no different. Questions about this or that eroded beach area are answered with a shrug and the suggestion that it is simply a result of annual weather patterns, or man-made structures disrupting the natural currents. At best, a question about climate change will bring a rueful smile, perhaps acknowledging the helplessness of such a tiny nation in the face of global nature.
But whether the impacts of a changing climate are yet being felt, or accepted, on the islands, it seemed that the 2015 agreement had reached a general consensus that human nature required all to bear equal responsibility for the planet’s future. But perhaps not, for what President Trump believes to be the unacceptable consequences of the Paris deal for Pennsylvania coal miners does not compare with those of unimpeded climate change on Huvadhu fishermen. Finding a new career is not the same as finding a new country.
Having fashioned a low-carbon lifestyle over two millennia, these smaller islands are now focusing on the modest development of their fragile homes – an ice plant here, a sewerage system there, futsal pitches everywhere. Meanwhile, irresistible pressures are mounting, threatening to end their dream within a just a few generations.
The idea that the great-grandchildren of the kids we meet on the streets of Dhevvadhoo today might never know the island life of their elders is beyond sad. That the cause of this might be the decisions of a man like Donald Trump is beyond belief.
Small island communities like these represent the full diversity of human civilisation on our planet, and an alternative to the generic urbanisation that has characterised the past century. Too good to be true? If the world allows itself to be ‘led’ by a man who couldn’t find the archipelago on a map (or spell it in a tweet), then, yes.
We wanted to start the Two Thousand Isles project to capture some of the stories of the Maldives islands before they change forever, but with the hope that they remain intact for many generations to come. Here’s hoping that wiser heads prevail.
Editor’s Note: “Two Thousand Isles” is a collaboration between Maldivian photographer Aishath Naj and her husband, British writer Daniel Bosley in partnership with Mihaaru to document the untold stories of the Maldive islands. Exclusive articles will be published biweekly on Mihaaru every Wednesday and Saturday.