ON a day when President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, there is a stark reality on show for The Bahamas.
Most of Grand Bahama. Abaco. Spanish Wells. Much of Crooked Island. Swathes of New Providence. Acklins. Andros. Cat Island. All will face increasing amounts of flood water – or be completely submerged in areas – according to predictions by experts at non-profit organisation Climate Central.
You can see for yourself. The organisation – which reports climate science news – has created an interactive website at https://coastal.climatecentral.org. You can adjust sliding scales to see how The Bahamas – and the rest of the world – would be affected from 2030 through to 2100. You can adjust for how much action is taken to tackle climate change – or how little – and even account for good or bad luck. Zoom in on where your house is right now – and see how the waters change around it in both the best and worst case scenarios.
It’s not a pretty picture.
“The residents of small island states could face particularly devastating losses,” report Climate Central. As the areas marked red for danger increase as you watch the effects over the years on the map, that is anything but an understatement.
The impact could be worse still. That Paris climate agreement that President Trump is so eager to pull the US out of? The Climate Central team base their projections on the planet warming no more than two degrees Celsius – the main target of that agreement. With the US pulling out – and goodness knows if others will follow – these predictions are already looking optimistic.
We have already seen the devastation wrought by a single hurricane – Hurricane Dorian – on the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco. If the frequency of hurricanes increases due to climate change, what costs will we and our children have to bear in the future?
We should not pretend either that this is a warning we have not heard before. In September this year, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis asked at the UN: “How will we continue to exist?”
His predecessors have sounded similar alarms. In 2009, then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said climate change was a “serious threat to our economic viability, our social development and our territorial integrity”. In 2015, his successor, Prime Minister Perry Christie said climate change was an “existential threat” and warned we had to fight for “countries like The Bahamas to stay on the map into the next century”.
Bahamian geographer Dr Adelle Thomas told this newspaper there cannot be “business as usual” and urged that the country should adapt to the changing times ahead – including re-zoning and a coherent plan for rebuilding.
Sadly when asked about whether residents will be allowed to rebuild in vulnerable areas on Sunday, Dr Minnis brushed the answer off onto Iram Lewis, the newly minted Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Recovery and Reconstruction.
There are hard questions facing The Bahamas as a result of climate change – and the time to act is not five, ten or 20 years down the line. It is now.
So what are the hard answers? And why do our leaders find it so easy to go away to international gatherings and warn of the danger to our nation but never seem ready to talk about what that means when they return home?
Go and look at whether your home is in danger according to these projections. Go look at whether your brother’s home, your sister’s home, your cousins are at risk of rising waters.
Ask yourself if it’s time we were having this conversation more forcefully in The Bahamas.
The answer is that it isn’t time. It’s already too late to start the conversation. We have time to make up – and demands to make of those who would lead our Bahamas towards that uncertain future.