Climate Change and Democracy in Maldives

Maldives took on a leadership role in the fight against climate change following the country’s first democratic elections in 2008, and has been outspoken at international negotiations. But a military coup in February has thrown the island nation’s records on climate change and democracy into question. Today we speak to a Maldivian activist about what’s happening in the country. We also talk to a scientist who’s on the leading edge of photovoltaics research. Dr. Jillian Buriak is working to make plastic solar panels a reality and bring a thin, flexible, and very cheap source of power to millions of people who live without electricity.

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In 2009 the Maldivian government held an underwater cabinet meeting to draw attention to the threat climate change posed to the island nation. Photo by Mohamed Seeneen.

Maldives is a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean which has been described as “ground zero” for climate change (map). President Mohammed Nasheed, of the Maldivian Democratic Party, is known for his climate change leadership.  He came to power in 2008 as the nation’s first democratically elected president, following 30 years of authoritarian rule. In 2009, President Nasheed garnered international attention by holding an underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the threat of climate change to low-lying nations. Dressed in scuba-gear, the president and his cabinet signed a document calling for global cuts to carbon emissions.  On February 7, 2012, President Nasheed was ousted from power by the police and military, and replaced by Vice President Mohamed Waheed. Peaceful protestors in the cities of Male and Addu have been confronted by violence from Maldives security forces. Terra Informa correspondent Kathryn Lennon speaks with Zaheena Rasheed, a young Maldivian democracy and climate justice activist.

Solar panels made from plastic
The world faces an enormous demand for energy, and climate change concerns mean that it will have to come from sources not yet invented. One technology that’s looking promising is a new generation of photovoltaic solar cells, made from plastic. Unlike the expensive, heavy and fragile existing silicon solar cells, plastic solar cells are light, cheap and flexible. Unfortunately, they only exist in laboratories right now. But there have been some breakthroughs. One of the people making those breakthroughs is Dr. Jillian Buriak, a chemist at the National Institute for Nanotechnology. She spoke with our correspondent, David Kaczan, about how her research is going, and why she believes plastic solar cells are so promising.

News Headlines

Anniversary of Japan’s tsunami
This week marks one year since a massive earthquake and subsequent Tsunami rocked Japan killing nearly 19,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands displaced. Reports coming from Japan state that very little has been done to clean up the destruction of the cities and towns which were destroyed. The 2011 Tsunami sent a massive amount of debris into the Pacific Ocean. New concerns regarding the debris, especially the plastic, are being voiced this week. Scientists believe that as the plastics break down, they will retain chemical contaminants such as (PCBs) and other toxins. Fish and other marine life feeding on these so called toxic little pills will cause the chemicals to up the food chain. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration continues to track the rubble and predicts the mass will begin to wash up on the coast of Hawaii late this year.

More on this story: Huffington Post, Washington Post, PBS NewsHour, The Telegraph

Nation of Kiribati plans relocation of entire population over rising sea level
The South Pacific’s Island nation of Kiribati joins the growing number of people having to permanently leave their homelands due to climate change. The nation of 103,000 people have been bracing for this reality by moving their communities inland, negotiating for permanent land in Fiji and educating it’s young people. The president of Kiribati, President Anote Tong, says the country is determined to come into their new land as immigrants who can gain a foothold in society and wish not to be considered second-class citizens or environmental refugees.

Run-of-river hydro killing BC fish

In British Columbia, the Vancouver Sun and the Wilderness Committee have both obtained documentation through freedom of information requests that shows the effects that BC’s hydro power plants are having on the surrounding rivers and fish populations. The report finds that fish are being killed by water-flow fluctuations caused by run-of-river hydro projects. Over 70 per cent of independent power projects in BC are found in water bodies with known or suspected fish populations. Impacts from such projects include severely decreased water flows which rapidly change water levels; negatively impacting river health and fish populations.

Hydroelectric in Labrador, Solar in BC & the Overseas Conduct of Canadian Mining Firms

On today’s show, we talk to a BC First Nation that’s leading the way in energy self-sufficiency. They tell us why they built one of the largest solar arrays in the country, and how they did it. We also investigate the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador. Proponents tout it as a source of carbon-free power for generations to come, but is it really green? Plus, we look into the conduct of Canadian mining companies operating overseas. Some companies’ environmental and human rights records are drawing the ire of NGOs. We investigate efforts to hold them responsible.

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Churchill Falls, fourty years after having its water diverted by the Upper Churchill hydroelectric project. Photo by Infernocow.

Overseas Conduct of Canadian Mining Companies

Globally, Canada is a giant in the mining industry. But our miners don’t just dig up minerals here, they head overseas in the search of bigger finds and bigger profits. However, the environmental, human rights and labour laws in many countries are lacking by Canadian standards. And at the moment, Canadian companies can get away with behaviour that wouldn’t be acceptable back home. Environmental and human rights groups aren’t impressed, and they’re pushing for change. Today we investigate efforts to improve the accountability of mining companies operating overseas.

Solar Powered First Nation in BC

All across Canada, communities are working to improve their sustainability. Some are expanding their public transit systems, others are retrofitting public buildings to increase energy efficiency. But one town has really set the bar high. The T’Sou-ke Nation on the southern tip of Vancouver Island has built such extensive photovoltaic and solar heating systems that they’re now largely self-sufficient. For much of the year, they actually sell power back to the grid. Their success has been drawing attention, and other communities are hoping to follow suit. For more on the story, we talk to Chief Gordon Planes and project manager Andrew Moore.

Lower Churchill Hydro Project in Labrador

One of the few environmental issues that made it onto the table in this spring’s federal election was a proposal for a hydroelectricity project on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador. And although it does promise huge amounts of carbon-free electricity, much of it for export, some people in Labrador are pretty concerned about the environmental impacts of such a megaproject.

Carbon Offsets & A Solar Powered Town

The T’Sou-ke Nation on Vancouver Island has built one of Canada’s largest solar installations and made a name for itself as leader in sustainable power. They tell us how they did it, and what they’re doing to help other communities that want to follow their lead. We also look into carbon offsets: their pros and cons, and what to look for when buying them. All that, plus your weekly round up of the new headlines from across the country, on this week’s edition of Terra Informa.

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The Pembina Institute and David Suzuki Foundation consumer guide to carbon offsets.

One of the solar arrays at the T'Sou-ke Nation on Vancouver Island.