Antiguans and Barbudans can breathe easy now that the 2019 hurricane season is behind us. This year’s season ran from May 20, when the first Atlantic system formed, to November 30. It was the fourth year in a row of above-average and violent seasons. This season (tied with the 1969 season) also ranks as the fourth-most active hurricane season on record with 18 storms. Mercifully, notwithstanding the potential for death and destruction, the good Lord, in His infinite grace, spared our twin-island nation, and we are indeed grateful. After all, we are still recovering from the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Irma in 2017. That was when, Mother Nature, in her capriciousness and whimsy, did her darndest to our Sister Isle, and nature’s grievous injury was compounded by human missteps in the rebuilding effort.
Hopefully, we (and the world) have learned many important lessons from Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Dorian – not least of which is that, unless the world gets truly serious about climate change, the grim reality of more and more Category 5 hurricanes will be with us for the foreseeable future. We have a solemn responsibility to be good stewards of the environment, and we must needs be about the business of preserving our mangroves, protecting and replenishing our trees, limiting plastic pollution and weaning ourselves off our unholy addiction to fossil fuels. In that regard, we have to begin thinking of more and more ways in which we can make that bold (and essential) transition to renewable sources of energy. To its credit, this Gaston Browne administration has peered into the future and is persuaded that the West Indies Oil Company (WIOC) must eventually change its business model so that as much oil as possible stays in the ground. Think, beyond petroleum!
That is actually the name of a multinational oil giant, British Petroleum, that recast itself as an energy company in 2000. This was all in an attempt to change its business model (and image) from a dastardly polluter of the environment, to a good corporate citizen that cared about our future. Thus, they began providing solar energy in a bid to steer consumers from oil to alternate and renewable energy. British Petroleum is now Beyond Petroleum! Kudos!
Kudos also to Minister of Health Molwyn Joseph, and his entire team for implementing the bold and visionary single-use plastics ban in 2016. It was a most encouraging step in the right direction that is now being emulated by a number of countries around the world like India. (India has temporarily put the ban on hold, but it will eventually become a reality there).
Our hosting of the historic PLAY IT OUT TO PHASE IT OUT concert was also quite an inspiring event, seen by millions around the world. For those countries that are still fiddling while Planet Earth burns, it is a welcome wake-up call.
Meanwhile, even as we exhale here in Antigua and Barbuda, we must remember those in other parts who were not so fortunate. Our hearts bleed with the families of those in the Bahamas who perished as the winds howled and the tempest raged over Abaco Island on September 1, and the eastern end of Grand Bahama Island on September 2. Not even Dante Alighieri could have described the hellish scenes that met the eye after Dorian decided to move on – one of utter devastation with a death toll of over 60, and 400 missing. We must also pray for the thousands of Bahamians who have been left destitute, and certainly assist in whatever way we can. Remember, “There, but for the grace of God go we . . . !”
Which begs the obvious question: How prepared is Antigua and Barbuda? In many ways, not as prepared as we would like to think. For example, our homes need to be more climate-change and hurricane resilient; our waterways and drains need to be upgraded and kept clear, especially when a hurricane threatens; we need to harden our shelters; our mangroves (still scratching our heads over the wanton mangrove destruction in the North East Marine Management Area and elsewhere) should be in place to reduce the intensity of storm surges and prevent detritus from entering our oceans, and so on and so forth. Clearly, we are of a mind that a great deal more can, and should, be done. It is not too early to set our homes in order. Remember, folks, “Mother Nature hath no fury like the wrath of an environment scorned!”