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  • - [Narrator] I'm Kento Bento.

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  • 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