Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

How can 13 people sign a document four meters under water? That very thought struck me as I watched Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, and 11 cabinet members don scuba gear and dive into a turquoise lagoon for the world’s first underwater meeting on October 19.

Despite the lighthearted, and even humorous approach, the subject matter was stone serious.

The morbid reality of the Republic of Maldives, an island chain in the Indian Ocean, is that within 100 years the entire nation will likely be gone. More than 80 percent of the islands are less than one meter (about 3.3 feet) above sea level, and with rising water levels the islands’ nearly 300,000 locals are being pressed into smaller and smaller living spaces.

The underwater meeting involved the signing of a document calling for an international collaboration in the effort to prevent global warming. The document will be presented at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark in early December.

While the effort is commendable and attention-grabbing, it is most unfortunate that it takes the threat of geographic elimination to expose the dark reality behind the world’s apathy toward the global warming plight.

America’s population exceeds 300 million people — about 1,000 times that of the Maldives — and yet we stand unaccomplished in the fight against global climate change.

According to a report released in 2006 by the advocacy group Environmental Defense, The U.S. contributes 45 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming, yet we represent a mere 5 percent of the world’s population.

With so many committees and organizations dedicated to protecting the environment, it’s a wonder we haven’t taken congressional action. Sure, we’ll save a rare and unheard of species of fish, but when it comes to preventing the looming destruction of humanity, we fall short.

We have a pendulous cloud lingering overhead, creeping down toward us with a vengeance. Mother nature is pissed. Humanity has spit pollution and poison in her face, and she’s not fond of toxic saliva.

Global warming isn’t going to drown us all within a week, but we cannot merely write it off as something future generations will have to deal with. We are being given more time to prevent our own destruction, much like the “one-and-three-quarters” we sometimes give ourselves when counting down from ten.

President Nasheed’s stunt not only drew worldwide attention to his country, but to the harshness of the future. The first democratically elected president of the Maldives, Nasheed has been a key force behind the global movement for climate change. In March 2009, he pledged to make the Maldives carbon-neutral within a decade.

If this small nation is taking such a strong stance on climate change, there is no excuse for the United States — the country that seems to want to “help” everyone — to have yet to sign onto any sort of comprehensive climate change plan.

If we are so forward-thinking, we will show it. Recent efforts have been made in Congress and by the Obama administration to work with other countries that produce major emissions and find a happy medium as far as pollutant levels go, but we have to question the delayed action. These moves to save us from our own demise should have been made years ago.

We need to stop musing about solutions and start implementing them. We have the reason, the resources and the capacity. All we lack is the drive.

The underwater meeting was a starting point. It ignited the Maldivian nation, and, with luck, the world. Now we wait to see if support and inspiration follow.

While I may never solve the great mystery of underwater paper-signing, at least I know that someone out there is fighting for humanity’s survival. America, it’s our turn.