Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Can Peaceful Protest Stop a Rising Tide?

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Can Peaceful Protest Stop a Rising Tide?

Article excerpt

THERE ARE TWO principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle, declared Abraham Lincoln in 1858: "the common right of humanity and the divine right of kings."

As the world debates how to stop our planet from overheating, I'm oddly comforted by Lincoln's clear-eyed analysis. The principle Lincoln applied to slavery also applies to reducing carbon pollution. "You work ... and I'll eat," was Lincoln's shorthand for the economics of slavery. Today, we can describe environmental economics similarly: "You die ... and I'll pollute."

Is the situation really that stark? It's hard to be sure. But when Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was asked by press what would happen if the Copenhagen environmental summit failed, he answered succinctly: "We are going to die."

The 1,190 coral islands that make up the nation of the Maldives sit about a yard above sea level. Even though the 300,000 Maldivians emit less than 0.1 percent of world carbon pollution, they are likely to lose their entire country to rising sea levels in the next 100 years. Already, 60 percent of the residents on one island have volunteered to evacuate over the next 15 years. Their nation is under attack, but the enemy is moving in slow motion. The Maldives' fresh water aquifers are drastically depleted. Annual rainfall is decreasing. Rising ocean temperatures and increased acid levels in the sea water are killing the coral reefs. The Maldives are the canary in the global coal mine--and the canary has a very bad cough.

The Maldives are notable for another reason: as an example of a predominantly Muslim society peacefully overthrowing an autocrat who was making accommodations with militant Islamic extremists. In October 2008, a 20-year-long nonviolent civil resistance movement forced the country's first democratic elections post-British rule, ousting Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest-ruling dictator. The Gandhi-inspired civil resistance leader Mohamed Nasheed was voted into office.

Nasheed's first democratic gesture was toward the outgoing dictator, under whom Nasheed had been imprisoned, beaten, forced to eat glass, and held for months in solitary confinement. "He is going to be staying with us," Nasheed said. "I don't think we should be going for a witch hunt and digging up the past."

Last October, President Nasheed gave an address to mark the international day of nonviolence. …

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