Credit NOAA via Instagram

Many Small Countries At Risk Of Devastation & Death From Climate Change

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Hurricane Beryl right now is pummeling several island nations in the Caribbean with wind gusts in excess of 150 mph and storm surges of up to 9 feet. For years, climate scientists have been telling us that climate change means average global temperatures are going up and the temperature of the oceans is rising. Warmer air holds more moisture, which means today’s storms bring more rain. Changes in the atmosphere tend to make storms move more slowly, which means the rain they bring goes on and on until the rivers and streams in the area can hold no more water and overflow their banks. Warmer ocean water acts like the turbocharger on a racing engine and pumps more energy into storms that form over the ocean, making them mushroom into powerful hurricanes in record time.

We have been told these things would happen and now they are. Hurricane Beryl has already set new records in several categories. It formed much further east in the Atlantic than normal, and sooner in the year than normal. It also went from a squall to a Category 3 hurricane in 42 hours, an increase in intensity in so short a period of time that it is virtually unheard of. So everything we have been told about climate change is true, and yet we still like to pretend none of this is happening.

We have the uncanny ability to gloss over the suffering of others. I live in Florida on the Atlantic Coast. I have friends who live on the Gulf side and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that when I read about a new storm, my first question is, “where is it headed?” If it is destined for the Gulf of Mexico, I breathe a sigh of relief and thank my lucky stars that my home is not threatened. The milk of human kindness is a rather localized phenomenon. We are programmed to focus on our own problems and ignore those of others that do not affect us directly. It is a flaw in our character and it impedes our concerns for others who are situated some distance away. It’s the way we are, but it’s nothing to be proud of.

Climate Change Comes Calling On Caribbean Nations

On July 1, Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), spoke to The Guardian as Hurricane Beryl slammed into his island nation. He decried a lack of political will in western Europe and the US to tackle global climate change as the storm made landfall as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane. Speaking from his residence in SVG, Gonsalves described the unfolding catastrophe as the “monster” storm ripped off rooftops, including that of the 204-year-old St George’s Anglican cathedral in the capital city of Kingstown. “We have no electricity, and while I am talking to you, the rain is beating on the official prime minister’s residence, and the winds are howling. And it’s going to get much worse,” he said. “The coming hours are going to be horrendous.”

Torrential rain and gale-force winds downed power lines, smashed vehicles, and forced thousands into shelters. Videos posted on social media showed aluminum roofing sheets slicing through the air. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration described Beryl as “life-threatening.” and warned that the worst was yet to come. Beryl strengthened from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in just 42 hours — a phenomenon known to have happened only six times before in Atlantic hurricane history.

By Sunday morning, countries across the eastern Caribbean, including SVG, Barbados, Grenada, and St Lucia, had been put on hurricane watch. Before the end of the day, a full-blown state of emergency declaration was issued on some islands, with curfews and restrictions on movement. Beryl has also grounded flights and forced the postponement of major events in the region, including the celebrations around the St Vincent Carnival and the 20-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders’ summit, which was scheduled for this week in Grenada.

With the winds howling in the background, Gonsalves said, “For the major emitters of greenhouse gases, those who contribute most to global warning, you are getting a lot of talking, but you are not seeing a lot of action — as in making money available to small island developing states and other vulnerable countries. I am hopeful that what is happening — and we are quite early in the hurricane season — will alert them to our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses and encourage them to honor the commitments they have made on a range of issues, from the Paris accord to the current time.”

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are still recovering from the effects of a major volcanic eruption in 2021. Neighboring Grenada, which the US was only too happy to invade in 1983 to overthrow a suspected communist government, is bearing the brunt of Hurricane Beryl. After the storm made landfall in Carriacou, one of the islands of Grenada, officials said they had received “reports of devastation.” If only the United States were as anxious to help small nations like Grenada protect themselves from the ravages of climate change as it is to eradicate a political group of self-identified communists, but the truth of the matter is that few if any Americans would notice if Grenada was wiped off the map by Hurricane Beryl.

Climate Change & Hot Air At COP Conferences

While speaking to  The Guardian, Gonsalves referred to COP, the annual UN climate change conference, as “largely a talk shop.” He is not wrong. Recently there have been more fossil fuel lobbyists at those conferences than delegates. During the time a former president was in office, the US delegation included a group of people singing the praises of coal — a low point in US history if there ever was one. He also pointed to the UK election campaign as an example of weak political will on climate action. “Climate change is not playing any major part in the campaigns. While you hear one or two people from the Labour party talk about it and some concerns from the Greens, it is really not at the core of the messages from the major parties to the British people, for the simple reason that it is not an election winner one way or the other. The same thing is happening in other parts of the election in western Europe and the United States as countries move to the right. It’s a terrible time for small island developing states and vulnerable countries.”

The Takeaway

Countries in the grip of right wing, authoritarian regimes tend to turn inward. They see outsiders not as trading partners or fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth, but rather as threats to their precious “way of life,” which often involves activities that threaten the Earth with more climate chaos. In fact, between 2017 and 2021, the US refused to engage with other nations to find ways to address climate change in any meaningful way. This November, America will once again be faced with a choice of whether to continue a robust program of climate action or turn its back on the rest of the world once again. For places like Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who wins the election in America this fall will likely have little impact on how it deals with the the more frequent and more powerful storms that climate change is making possible. The Earth may well have passed a tipping point that has doomed small countries to extinction.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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