by Amelia Moore, author of Destination Anthropocene: Science and Tourism in the Bahamas
As we all know by now, Hurricane Dorian spun out of the Atlantic in early September and squarely hit the Bahamian islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, leaving an unfolding disaster in its wake. Hurricanes are increasing in intensity across the region, and Dorian was the second hurricane of this Atlantic season, the fourth named storm of the year, and the first hurricane to make landfall in 2019. While Dorian will certainly not be the last storm to batter The Bahamas, or even the last storm of 2019, could it be the storm that shatters the archipelago’s climate complacency?
The last few years have seen pervasive Anthropocenic irony in The Bahamas. Climate projections position the islands as some of the most vulnerable in the region, if not the world, to the compounded effects of global warming. The United Nation’s Development Program Climate Change Adaptation branch states that “climate change presents new challenges (for The Bahamas) due to the speed of the anticipated changes and the magnitude of the investments needed to adapt to predicted changes.” Yet despite the prediction of pending crisis, the powers that be in the country appeared to be very far from locating a viable path forward. Large-scale developments were proposed and built with no alternative energy plans to support increased energy usage. Offshore oil and LNG exploration has been courted and supported by successive administrations. The Bahamian economy is dependent on the international tourism industry, an industry that has been allowed to set its own terms for growth, utilizing carbon intensive transportation and construction infrastructures. If the Bahamian government truly believed it was vulnerable to the effects of global warming, you wouldn’t be to blame if you never saw much evidence to that effect.
And now, after the storm, as Bahamians struggle heroically to rescue and house the stranded, locate and honor the dead, and assess the short and long term effects of the damage, are the powers that be also experiencing an overdue sense of reckoning? Has the tide turned at last? Will the next hurricane hit Bahamian islands that are prepared and will that storm finally be recognized as a manifestation of centuries of massively inequitable anthropogenic pollution?
At times it feels as though the ironies are only proliferating. Already on social media, there are calls for the tourists to return, en masse, to the islands that were not decimated by the hurricane. Yet there has been no discussion of reducing the carbon footprint attached to all this vital travel. And already there are admissions that hedge fund speculators and bargain hunters are attempting to profit from this calamity by buying up damaged properties on the cheap when owners in distress need cash to survive. These prospective buyers, or “climate gentrifiers“, are not thinking about long term adaptations to small island life in the Anthropocene. They are focused on short-term gain.
But there is hope- or should we say, possibility- in this wake. Last week students around the world walked out of class to protest global warming. This week powerful speeches were made at the UN Climate Action Summit. And in The Bahamas, the newly formed Cat Island Conservation Institute (CICI) presented the Minister of Environment with a Climate Crisis Emergency Declaration, extolling the injustice of climate change for the small island nation. Local groups like the CICI want to build grass roots support for climate action that can address the lived injustices of Caribbean peoples that cannot be green washed or sold to foreign speculators. Of course only time (and major geopolitical transitions) will tell, but Dorian may be the harbinger of real sea change for one small archipelago after all.