By Malcolm Strachan
IN the wake of Hurricane Dorian, The Bahamas has become the latest example for climate change activists as they ramp up the fight. Stunned by the realisation of how vulnerable we actually are to the threat of climate change, the government, still dizzied by the severe impact of the storm, is trying to gain its balance.
Prime Minister Minnis’ address at the UN General Assembly last week, however, was an encouraging step by our leadership that they too, recognise the importance of raising awareness. Particularly while we have the attention of many observers spanning the globe, it is important that we not only send the right message with our words, but also with our actions.
And it is in this same vein that we must show we too are ready to join the fight.
During his address, Prime Minister Minnis said: “I add my urgent plea to the cries and voices of many other leaders and citizens of the global commons, urging the nations of the world here assembled to treat the global climate emergency as the greatest challenge facing humanity.
“It is a challenge that, if not treated with the greatest urgency, will continue to ravage small island states, such as The Bahamas, and will also have devastating impact on more developed states.”
But what’s next?
From where the prime minister sits, his address should serve as a springboard to commence a world tour where he meets with other world leaders to discuss the importance of a full-fisted response to climate change. Beginning right here at home, two of our biggest economic partners are the US and China – two of the countries with the most carbon dioxide emissions.
One of the primary discussions the prime minister should be having with Presidents Trump and Xi Jin Ping is on what they’re doing to lower their carbon emissions in their respective countries.
The reality is with the holdings of both Chinese and American companies being based in The Bahamas, there should at the very least be conversations about what needs to be done going forward. Particularly for the US, The Bahamas is usually a pit stop before storms head to Florida or along the coast to unleash more destruction.
That is just one part of it.
Additionally, as economic partners, when foreign investors enter the country to do business, the government must have in tow an environmental policy that creates balance whereby companies investing in the Bahamian economy are doubling down and doing so for the environment as well. For instance, let’s take Carnival Cruises’ illegal dumping of 500,000 gallons of waste water in Bahamian waters. While the government’s goal in closing this deal was to drive the Grand Bahamian economy and show the world we’re open for business, how does this play into the preservation of our environment?
Following the signing of the Carnival cruise port heads of agreement, Environment and Housing Minister Romauld Ferreira has tabled the Environmental Planning and Protection bill which “prohibits a person from discharging any hazardous waste into the environment, except with prescribed regulations”. Those in violation of the bill’s tenets may face fines of up to $500,000 and a maximum of five years in prison.
Still, where this places us relative to Carnival’s previous transgressions is unclear. As far as we can see, it seems to be water under the bridge, and until we know what has been tabled in the heads of agreement, it is uncertain if we’ve gotten anything more than apology.
At any rate, beyond Carnival, we still have much bigger fish to fry in terms of how we want to be perceived against the backdrop of the prime minister’s address. Here it is, we have an opportunity to be the poster child for climate change awareness after having suffered such trauma as a result of Hurricane Dorian.
That being said, the tendency to sit back with arms folded waiting on your Member of Parliament or Jesus to fix all of our worries will not move the needle, though. This time will call for action from Bahamian citizens – the kind of action that we have historically been far too relaxed to take. That radical type of action has to become a new normal.
The days of being unaware of the issues that affect you or dismissing them for the sake of supporting your political party need to be eradicated. The citizenry has to become much more informed on these issues, as it is truly a matter of life and death.
While we spew hatred about Haitians and the government wades it way through unchartered waters, the true threat is not sleeping. It is very much awake.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1300 scientists from around the world, predicts that global temperatures will rise 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. Based on studies performed by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than average temperatures between 1951-1980. More disconcerting is that the period of 2015-2018 is the hottest on record. And to even further heighten our fears, July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet.
Contextualising that and considering these trends, our weather conditions simultaneously provided the perfect breeding ground for Hurricane Dorian and the most horrific experience for those that experienced its fury firsthand.
Brothers and sisters, we are at a critical juncture as Bahamians. We can choose to say that climate change is a farce. We can choose to believe conspiracy theories about weather manipulation. We can even choose to believe that God wanted to wash away all the Haitian migrants. However, we would be fatally wrong on all fronts.
This phenomenon is real, and we are squarely in its crosshairs.
The question is what are we going to do about it? As eight days in September came and went, the Global Climate Strike took place, as 7.6 million people from around the world participated in the biggest climate protest in history. All while we ranted about Haitians and lambasted each other’s political parties, people were taking action on something that we need to frontline. But what were we occupying our time with?
Surely, if we don’t remove our buried heads from the sand, we will be an endangered species and our beautiful Bahama land may be a relic of the past.