How To Save The Maldives (The 7 Choices)


– [Narrator] I’m Kento Bento. This video is made possible
by CuriosityStream. Watch thousands of documentaries for free for 30 days at the link
in the description. The Maldives, 2119, in the Indian Ocean. Children play on the streets, as worshippers enter the city
mosque for their morning prayer. Fresh fruit and vegetable
stands line the alleyways, as nearby fishermen with
their buckets of entrails gut their morning catch on the sidewalk. This is the city of Malé,
the capital of the Maldives, and in 2119, aside from
some advanced architecture, it appears life in the
Maldives isn’t so different from a hundred years earlier. But the closer you look,
the more you may miss, because you should in
fact be looking from afar, far back enough to see
that the nation of islands, formerly known as the Maldives, has actually long been evacuated. In place, a nation of oil rigs, because this is the new Maldives: over 400 offshore oil rigs,
no longer used for drilling, refurbished to hold the
entire Maldivian population, with rigs for general housing, but also solely for specific functions
like livestock rigs, airport rigs, landfill, government, education,
and even prison oil rigs, this essentially preserving the
classic Maldivian way of life in much the same geographical location
from a century earlier. Now with rising sea levels
due to climate change, this is just one version of events, one possible future scenario
to save the Maldives and its people, and in this video, we’ll
be covering the rest, as we build up to the finale, with the most impenetrable,
the most unexpected, and, well, the most
extravagant one of all. Now, thousands
of years ago, in the vastness of the Indian Ocean,
600km southwest of Sri Lanka, islands burst through the surface after the eruption of a chain
of underwater volcanoes. This created a paradise
for future inhabitants, with about 1200 coral islands grouped
in a double chain of 26 atolls, spread over 90,000 square
kilometers, this making it one of the most dispersed
countries in the world. More importantly though,
with the average ground level being about 1.2 meters above sea level, it’s also the lowest and
flattest country on Earth. Note the tallest mountain you can
conquer is a mere 2.4 meters high. Clearly, rising sea levels
will be seriously impacting the culture and livelihood of
all citizens of the Maldives. So, with number two on our list, perhaps we could gradually
increase the elevation of the existing land by adding sand. Yes, populations would need
to be arduously relocated from lower to higher
grounds, which isn’t ideal, but it would enable the islands
to retain storage capacity for groundwater, very
important, considering rising sea
levels in general is expected to further reduce the
dwindling freshwater supplies. Another benefit is that it
would not substantially change the character of the islands, which wouldn’t be the case
for, say, land reclamation. Now, shifting from maintenance
of land to creation of land, land reclamation often
involves dredging up sediments and debris from the ocean floor in order to construct new elevated land. Engineers have already built
several reclaimed islands in the Maldives by pumping sand
from the surrounding atolls, like Thilafushi and Hulhumale, but usable sand isn’t limitless, and just like oil, is a
sought-after commodity. And so, the Maldives have been importing huge quantities of sand
from various countries, like Bangladesh in particular, which for them makes sense,
as huge amounts of sediment are being naturally
deposited from the Himalayas to Bangladeshi rivers,
which impairs navigability, and so there the dredging
of rivers is a necessity, Win-win. Wall. Now, let’s change continents for a sec. Netherlands, 1953. Heavy storms caused major flooding in several European countries
in the North Sea region. The Netherlands, with large
areas below mean sea level, was the worst affected. And this wasn’t unique,
as over the centuries the country had been
subject to numerous floods. As a long-term solution the
Dutch developed the Delta Works, an extensive system of protective dams and storm surge barriers which
shortened their coastline. This was finally completed
about 40 years later in 1997. So what if the Maldives
built something similar, massive sea walls, barriers,
to solidify their coastal defenses? I should mention that the capital Malé
currently has a three-meter high barrier protecting its inhabitants, which was donated by
the Japanese government. They sure know a thing or two about the failures of
protecting their coastlines. But it’s certainly not as
sophisticated as it could be. For the Delta Works in the Netherlands it has been declared
one of the Seven Wonders of the modern World, but if a
proper Maldivian counterpart were to be constructed, we’re
talking extensive barriers around all the islands and atolls, it would be on an even greater scale. But the larger these sorts
of construction projects, the greater too, the ecological impact; reclaimed land, giant sea walls, these tend to lead to habitat
destruction of native species, negatively impacting coastal populations. Now, of course the sentiment of many is that they would
rather destroy a few reefs than to see an entire culture go
extinct, than to see their cities sink. But, hold on. According to satellite
pictures and Google Earth from the past years, indeed
some islands are sinking or rather shrinking as you
would expect, but not all. In fact, despite rising sea levels,
some islands appear to be growing. There is research out there that suggests submergence might not be
a foregone conclusion. You see, reefs, or coral reefs, are some of the most
dynamic landforms on Earth; they change shape and move around
in response to shifting sediments. Monsoon winds and storms
can break up coral and deposit sand on atolls
helping islands grow naturally, and this too can happen with
rising sea levels in general. In essence, coral reefs can act as
a natural buffer to protect shorelines. So it seems clear that we need to
protect and preserve this natural process to give us a better shot in the future, which brings us back to the
issue of habitat destruction, because, unfortunately,
this natural process is being disrupted quite
frequently by human development as reefs are losing the sand. Note some of these approaches
are quite the double-edged sword. Regardless, it’s tremendously risky
to rely on this natural process alone, as there is still much we don’t know, like how much sand will be produced, how consistent it is across
islands, and to what extent it will actually counter
rising sea levels. We do, however, know a lot about
what causes global warming, which begs the question: how much of
this can be prevented in the first place? Girifushi, The Maldives, 2009, 20 feet below the surface of a lagoon, a cabinet meeting was taking
place among the fishes. No, seriously. Maldivian President Mohamed
Nasheed, his vice president, cabinet secretary and 11
ministers, donning scuba gear, submerged themselves in the ocean, taking their seat at the
table on the seafloor. They proceeded to have an
underwater cabinet meeting, using white boards and hand
signals to communicate. It was probably a slow day at the office, but that wasn’t the point,
because with a backdrop of coral, the meeting was a bid
to draw global attention to the effects of climate
change and rising sea levels. President Nasheed after all had promised to make the Maldives the world’s
first carbon-neutral country by 2020, eliminating the use of fossil fuels
and switching to renewable energy sources, a tall order, as we would later find out. As bubbles floated up their face masks, the president and the
13 government officials signed a document
calling for all countries to join them in cutting their
carbon dioxide emissions, the Maldives here trying
to lead by example with this lighthearted
yet poignant display, hopeful that others would follow. And this was important, as the Maldives taking action on their
own would only account for a tiny bit of difference
in global carbon emissions, this wouldn’t save their country. Changes in, say, the
United States and China, the world’s two largest emitters,
would likely mean a whole lot more. Unfortunately, in 2017,
US President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from
the Paris Agreement. Now, the truth is though, even if all carbon emissions
were to cease tomorrow, it wouldn’t prevent
what many scientists see as the physical inevitability
of destructive sea level rise. And this Nasheed was well aware of, as, in addition to his
attempts at reducing the carbon footprint, he was
in search for a new homeland. Yes, his intention was
to buy new land elsewhere for the entire Maldivian population, as an insurance policy for
the worst case scenario, something we’ll get to in a later video. But, unfortunately for Nasheed,
he was ousted as president in 2012, and since then the Maldivian government
has changed course dramatically, as the new administration’s
approach to rising sea level has been less concerned with
the environmental consequences, and more inclined towards the
opposite, mass development, including a revolutionary
approach rarely seen before. Now, if these kinds of coastal defenses the Maldives need are
even possible, though, it’s going to be tremendously costly, especially considering
they’re a developing country. In fact, they’d likely be unaffordable
without the unlikely prospect of major international
backing, and, further, putting the fate of
their nation’s existence in the hands of those largely responsible for their current climate woes
seems risky to say the least. So this was the new thinking: if they were truly going to
survive rising sea levels, money is what they needed, and lots of it. And so the focus needed to be on growing their tourism sector, as that
is their largest industry, key to building their economy. They felt Nasheed’s idealistic approach
previously was doing the opposite: it was killing the economy, with huge chunks of their tourism funds
being diverted to the high upfront cost of sustaining a carbon-neutral country
and the purchasing of new land. This, they felt, was an
acceptance of defeat. But now, there is a problem. Some of these mass development projects
don’t quite align with the new directive. We know the white sand
beaches, the coral reefs, and tropical resorts are
essential for tourism, but, looking ahead, it’s
unclear whether, say, vacationing on an old recycled oil rig would have the same draw,
or, for that matter, having massive sea walls blocking
the beautiful ocean view. Reclaiming islands is a better
approach in this regard, but continuous sea level rise
means fortifying coastal defenses, which, certainly exhaustive,
would be an ongoing thing, which is why the Maldivian
government is now looking to develop a special kind
of artificial island, one that will survive rising
tides, no matter how high. Tethered to the ocean floor
by cables, this structure will stay above water even
in the worst of storms. Yes, we’re talking about floating islands. No, not the dessert. For this, the government has teamed with a Dutch architectural firm
specializing in this field, who has already built
thousands of floating homes, a floating conference center,
and even a floating prison, back in their native Netherlands. These new floating islands
will have swanky new resorts, waterfront villas, luxury housing, even an 18-hole golf
course on its own island, and these are expected to
attract millions more tourists. Even better, the new structures supposedly won’t have
as many adverse effects on the environment, as it’s
tethered, so it won’t hurt or touch the surrounding
coral reefs and marine life. Now, to get started paying
for all these mega projects though, part of the Maldives’ strategy
is to rent out their own islands. Currently, they are in negotiations with Saudi Arabia to
lease an entire atoll, Faafu Atoll, consisting of 23 islands. The lease is set for 99 years, during which the Saudis
are planning to invest at least $10 billion
into developing the land. Note $10 billion is more than
twice the GDP of the Maldives. And this may just be the start. Politicians are hoping the
transformation of The Maldives, in general, will lead to a “smart” country with a new capital, high-tech centers, innovative architecture,
economic free zones and some of the best
universities in the world to attract the global elite. When we think of what tomorrow’s
cities will look like, most of us envision, say, Tokyo,
Hong Kong, Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore, but perhaps
it might just be a city from what was once a tiny backwater
nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean, that at one point we all
thought needed saving. Oh, and if you like learning
about the cities of the future you can transport
yourself to the year 2050 by watching this incredible
documentary series, Dream The Future, narrated
by Sigourney Weaver, on the scientific and
technological innovations set to revolutionize daily life in the megacities of tomorrow. It’s available right now
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curiositystream.com/kentobento right now and use the promo code “kentobento”,
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The Future, I highly recommend it. And for everyone who stayed till
the end, thank you for watching. (exciting electronic music)

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