BY ROGAN SMITH
In life, it’s not enough to just say the right thing. You must also do the right thing.
Case in point. Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said all the right things during his climate change speech on the floor of the 74th United Nations General Assembly. He, like his two immediate predecessors before him, had warned world leaders that The Bahamas was “under threat” from climate change.
He stressed that this global climate emergency should be treated as the “greatest challenge facing humanity.” His speech came just days after Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, took global leaders to task for failing to address climate change.
The environment, and more specifically, climate change, has taken center stage in recent months. Many Bahamians, after witnessing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian in August, are also now keenly aware of how vulnerable a nation The Bahamas is.
As a low-lying archipelago with its highest point at 207 feet above sea level, we cannot afford to do nothing.
“The Bahamas fully supports the [UN] Secretary General’s comprehensive strategy to address a global emergency, which will eventually devastate the entire planet,” the prime minister told the UN.
“The small island countries in the Caribbean, in the Atlantic, in the Pacific, and in the Indian Ocean and around the world, are on the frontlines of being swallowed into an abyss, created by human activity and increasingly by inaction. Our vulnerabilities as states on the frontline are profound.”
In August, parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama were devastated by Hurricane Dorian. More than 50 were killed, many more are believed to be dead, many are missing and thousands of people were displaced.
While The Bahamas didn’t create the mess that world is currently in, as it relates to climate change, it certainly played its part. Not only that, we, and the rest of the Caribbean, will suffer as a result of drastic changes to the climate.
I believe if a nation is under threat, as Dr. Minnis reminded us it is, then I fully expect him and his government, to do all in its power to mitigate that threat.
That would mean making a serious effort to cut carbon dioxide emissions at all costs. That would send a serious message to the world that we, ourselves, are willing to do what it takes to protect our nation.
Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, which is released through burning fossil fuels like oil, gas or coal, as well as other human activities like deforestation. Too much carbon dioxide in the air causes most global warming. It also stays in the atmosphere longer than other major heat-trapping gases. That’s a major problem.
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have emissions testing during the yearly vehicle licensing process. Too many cars and jitneys are on the road belching toxic pollutants on a daily basis. We need to ensure that that is included in the inspection process.
Local environmentalists have been trying ad nauseam, to get the government to abandon fossil fuels and pursue renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydropower instead.
Many developing countries around the world are already ditching fossil fuels.
Costa Rica for example, sees the writing on the wall, and is looking to end fossil fuel use by 2050.
In early 2019, the Costa Rican government launched a decarbonization plan to rid the country of fossil fuels by 2050. The government wants 70 percent of public transportation powered by electricity in 2035 and the entire fleet by 2050.
Here at home, environmentalists have asked for the government to scrap any plans for LNG entirely. They also want the government to block Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) from drilling for oil. But, it doesn’t seem they will get their wish.
It was the Christie administration that granted BPC a license for exploratory drilling in 2007. The then-government later gave BPC two more renewals to drill. According to Attorney General, Carl Bethel, the Minnis administration is “legally obligated” to extend that license.
Even if the government’s hands are indeed tied in this one instance, there is a lot it can do to protect our nation.
Firstly, we need environmental laws with real enforcement and severe penalties. We must seem like idiots or a dream to foreign investors. Perhaps both. We have this beautiful country that offers so much and because we have no laws to protect us, they can come here, set up shop, damage us irreversibly and leave without real consequences. Our government need not be so eager to provide jobs that it does so at the detriment of our country and the planet.
Secondly – because we are under threat – Dr. Minnis must take steps to transition our country from fossil fuels to renewable energy. There’s no reason why a country that has so much sunshine should not capitalize on this constant energy source.
Thirdly, in order to improve air quality, we need to implement emissions testing for vehicles. Naturally, there would be exceptions, but until we fully transition to electric cars, which produce no emissions from the tailpipe, this is what we must do.
And fourthly, the Minnis administration needs to disallow the dredging of mangroves, which have historically protected us from powerful surges. I cannot stress this enough.
I was also pleased to hear the prime minister say he would like The Bahamas to be included in the UN Development Programme, which is already working with Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St. Lucia.
I also applaud the government for imposing a ban on Styrofoam and single-use plastics by 2020. It’s a start. But, we will have to go further.