Front Porch | Letter to young Bahamians after Hurricane Dorian
This is the 600th column by this writer. It is dedicated to young Bahamians (including the sons and daughters of family members and dear friends) in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which has exposed the dire threat of the global climate emergency for The Bahamas and the world. This is the greatest threat facing humanity and the greatest threat that your generation and succeeding generations will face.
Dear Young Bahamians:
A few weeks ago, this writer, along with dear companions and friends, flew the short, approximately 25-minute flight to Marsh, Harbour, Abaco, for a week-long visit. We stayed at a home generously loaned by a friend. It was one of the more memorable vacations of a lifetime.
Within a few short weeks, Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever in the Atlantic and the most powerful storm ever to hit the northern Bahamas, ravaged much of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
During its peak, the hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (mph) and gusts of over 220 mph. There were storm surges of 18 to 23 feet above normal tide levels, which is three times the height of a six-foot-tall person.
The final death toll may be in the hundreds or more. Many bodies may never be recovered. In terms of the dead and the level of destruction, this is the worst hurricane ever to hit The Bahamas.
As horrible as Hurricane Dorian was, because of the threat of the global climate emergency caused by earth-warming carbon gases, resulting in a heating climate, melting polar icecaps and rising sea levels, hurricanes may become even stronger and surging waters even higher and more dangerous and deadly.
Some in the vacation group from a few weeks ago, in their 50s and 60s, had never before visited Abaco, though they had travelled the world and visited the United States of America more times than they could recall.
Perhaps some of you who have been to Florida many times have visited few or perhaps none of our Family Islands.
It is remarkable the number of Bahamians who have visited other countries many times but who have not visited other major islands in The Bahamas archipelago.
These Bahamians have not experienced the cultural richness and natural beauty that scores of adventurers and tourists have enjoyed such as the Glass Window Bridge in Eleuthera, the yearly rake ‘n’ scrape festival on Cat Island, the iconic West Indian flamingoes and roseate spoonbills at Inagua, Dean’s Blue Hole at Long Island and other wonders of our country.
The turquoise waters of the Exuma Cays, the pink sands found throughout the Family Islands, the shallow sandbanks below the aqua waters near Acklins and Crooked Islands, make the beaches and waters of New Providence pale in comparison.
To grow up in The Bahamas and never to discover or experience our other islands is like being offered a banquet table of the best food in the world but only trying one dish and leaving many others untasted.
The Bahamasair jet on which our vacation group flew, descended as the new Sunday morning was unfolding over Great Abaco island, which is larger than a number of smaller Caribbean island-nations. By contrast, Andros is one of the larger islands in the Caribbean.
From the window of the jet, passengers spied an extensive marsh system and a natural harbor, both of which generously lent their geography to name Marsh Harbour, the largest town on Abaco, with approximately 6,000 or more residents.
Marsh Harbour has now been reduced to rubble, reminiscent of the photos of the aftermath of the atomic bombs which devastated two Japanese cities at the end of World War II.
In the north, Great Abaco is linked to Little Abaco. An enchanting and spectacularly beautiful mini-archipelago of barrier and other cays populate the waters of Abaco, including: Walker’s Cay, Grand Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Great Guana Cay and Elbow Cay.
Each cay has its own rich history and particular culture, though there is a larger and shared history blending the Loyalists and their slaves who left the United States during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). It was also known as the War of American Independence.
All of these cays have sustained either decimation or devastation. Historic buildings, idyllic homes, churches and other structures have been reduced to rubble.
The memories of Abaco are like a multilayered cake, rich with many flavors, some of which came as a surprise. There was the Creative Hands Bakery at the entrance of Treasure Cay, whose welcoming owners cooked or baked a range of Bahamian delicacies such as pea soup and dough, stewed fish, sheep tongue souse, guava duff, coconut tart, sea grape and guava jam.
We ate breakfast at the bakery then took the ferry to Green Turtle Cay, returning later to pick up two orders of minced crawfish. Before heading back to Marsh Harbour, the group of friends discovered the magnificent Treasure Cay beach, where two wonderful friends howled with laughter like school girls. Most of Treasure Cay is no more.
The candy cane lighthouse at Hope Town on Elbow Cay, which you may have seen in pictures, survived the hurricane. But imagine if the lighthouse was destroyed and you never got to see it.
Sadly, this is similar to what has happened. There is much of Hope Town and the other cays that many Bahamians will never get to see because so much has been destroyed.
But there is still much of The Bahamas left to see and to protect in the face of the global climate emergency, one of the greatest threats our country will ever face.
What happened to Abaco, the Abaco Cays, to Grand Bahama and Ragged Island before, can also happen on any or every island in our archipelago, including New Providence.
“In terms of the number of islands, islets, reefs, coral reefs and cays, The Bahamas is one of the larger archipelagos in the world.
“Our far-flung archipelago … extends from north to south, approximately the same geographic length from the northern to the southern end of Great Britain.”
Our extended archipelago is on the frontlines of the climate emergency, which is going to affect our entire country. All of our islands and cays are under threat from rising waters and land erosion.
Is it possible that many Bahamians will become climate refugees and have to leave our country because of rising sea levels?
For non-residents of Abaco or parts of Grand Bahama, the devastation is heartbreaking. But for those who have lost everything, it is horrifying and tragic. Many are deeply traumatized.
While many of us may show sympathy, we cannot even begin to fathom the loss of family members, livelihoods, homes.
But it would be callous and cowardly if we do not transform our empathy and the horrible memory of this hurricane into action and a series of moral and ethical choices, which might be posed in a series of questions, including by teachers of after-Dorian.
What are our moral obligations as citizens or residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian? How can we specifically help others in need?
How should we treat our Haitian brothers and sisters affected by this hurricane? How do we balance our immigration laws with compassion, justice and mercy?
No human being in need is a moral stranger. How do we uphold the human dignity of others, especially if we claim that we share the same human dignity?
What are the causes, nature and consequences of climate change? How can we individually and as a country be more environmentally conscious? What actions can we take to reduce our carbon footprints?
What policy actions must The Bahamas take to address the climate emergency and how, as a young person, can you help to bring about constructive change?
What career path might you take and/or what community service can you undertake in response to Hurricane Dorian and global warming?
How can we together confront the negativity, fake news, lies and false information on social media which is often toxic and poisonous?
What concrete actions can you demonstrate in school, at church and in your daily lives to show more kindness and compassion?
The responses to these questions will help to determine the content of our individual, collective and national character.