The Maldives As Microcosm Of Climate Collapse

Climate collapse is everywhere, but in the Maldives you can’t avoid it


Sandbags on the approach to Velana Airport

When you fly into the Maldives you feel like the Mafia. “Nice place, shame if something happened to it.” And you’re the thing that’s happening to it.

In the Maldives you can see both climate change and the impossibility of averting it within your own eyes. In the city of Male I saw sandbags around the flooding airport, a cargo ship of liquified petroleum, and a sign saying no bicycles or walking to the airport. I could hear constant airplanes and seaplanes overhead, smell diesel from the ubiquitous boats, and simply feel the searing heat out of season. Again, these things are happening all over the world, but not right in front of you like in the Maldives. Climate collapse is an academic debate in much of the world, still, but in the Maldives it’s unavoidable. But the reaction isn’t what you think. It’s not awareness so much as a massive cognitive dissonance.

I’m at the Waterworld. I’m at the Pizza Hut. I’m at the combination Waterworld and Pizza Hut

The Maldives is a strange place in that its immediate existence depends on its proximate destruction. Everyone that comes here comes on a plane. Everything that comes here comes on a cargo ship. Everything that moves between the islands moves the same way. Most money that trickles down to Male comes through the million plus tourists that come every year. But these same tourists also bring metric shit-tonnes of pollution, making the Maldives increasingly uninhabitable. The Maldives cannot live with or without fossil fuels. This is really just the modern condition, but in the Maldives it is most nakedly so.

The Maldivian government made a big statement against climate change by holding a cabinet meeting underwater, but what are they actually going to do? They can’t put their money where their mouths are (and stop tourism) because they have A) too many local mouths to feed and, more importantly, B) too much globalized greed. Since their scuba statement, the Maldives has only sold off more islands to tourism, encouraging long-haul flights from all over the world. Now they’re setting up bunkering facilities to attract more cargo ships…



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at