The Green Issues summer movie series, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Wabash Library, continued on July 16 with the screening of The Island President, an award-winning documentary portraying the efforts of newly-elected President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, a newly emergent democracy in the Indian Ocean, to save his country from almost certain destruction by the effects of global climate change.

Democratically elected leaders often face difficult times and great challenges. Think of President Abraham Lincoln assuming the presidency in 1861 with the Southern states bent on secession and the destruction of the Union at hand. Or, recall Franklin Roosevelt taking office in the middle of the Great Depression. Each faced daunting challenges to gain the public's confidence, harness the institutional power of the established government, and direct it toward solving the crises the nation faced. But, in many ways, the challenges facing President Nasheed as the newly-elected chief executive dwarfed those looming over Lincoln and Roosevelt.

The Maldives nation consists of nearly 1200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean. Its population of 328,000 lives on fewer than 200 of those islands. Maldives holds the distinction of being the lowest lying country on the planet, with an average elevation of 1.5 meters (4 feet, 11 inches) and its highest natural elevation at 7 feet 10 inches above sea level. The Maldives had been ruled for over 30 years by the oppressive regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and had never known democracy. Nasheed had led opposition to Gayoom for years, been jailed numerous times, then exiled. He returned from exile in 2007 to lead the successful movement to overthrow Gayoom and become the Maldives' first democratically-elected leader.

The film follows Nasheed through much of his first year in office where he faces not only the challenge of establishing effective democratic institutions and the legitimacy of his government, but also the growing realization that rising sea levels, linked to climate change and global warming, threaten his nation's very existence. With sea level increases of one to two meters (3 to almost 7 feet) projected by the end of this century, most of the Maldive islands would disappear.

President Nasheed realizes early on in his presidency that for the sake of his nation he must act not only on the national stage, but in the international arena as well. The film follows him as pushes his nation to become the first in the world to declare a commitment to becoming "carbon neutral" within a decade, then as he seeks to gain international agreement at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit for policies to limit carbon emissions and limit global temperature change.

The film chronicles the tension between Nasheed's idealism (his commitment to saving his nation and millions of people worldwide from the effects of global warming) and his political realism (his recognition that he must accept policy compromises that leave the threat to his nature's future unresolved in order to gain an international agreement committed to symbolic steps and half measures).

In the end, Nasheed succeeds in gaining passage of the compromised climate change agreement that pledges developed nations to try to reduce carbon emissions and global temperature increases. He returns home to confront the ongoing need to invest in band aide measures to develop sea walls which will at best only postpone the apparently inevitable inundation of the Maldives. Construction of sea walls and other barriers means sacrificing commitments to education and health care.

Nasheed's government began to face organized opposition in 2010 and by February of 2012 he had been forced to resign his presidency.

The Island President generated stimulating conversation among the Green Movie series audience. It highlighted the threats to low lying coastal areas around the world (Bengladesh, India, Pakistan, Viet Name, the east, west, and Gulf coasts of the United States, along with island nations like the Maldives) as well as the political difficulties of developing and adopting policies to which both developed and developing countries might agree.

Free and open to public, the next event in the Green Movie series Into Eternity will be shown Wednesday, August 7 in the Korb Classroom at the Fine Arts Center at Wabash College, on South Grant Street. Light refreshments will be provided.