Megan Thompson is traveling around the world for a series on climate change and small islands. She filed this report from Antigua and Grenada.
On Thursday night, during dinner at the family home of our Antiguan guide, conversation turned to the powerful currents that pull the Atlantic waters westward from Europe and Africa to the eastern Caribbean.
I asked – half-joking – if they’d ever found a message in a bottle. Without hesitation they replied, “Of course!” They pointed to a large ceramic pot filled with notes and letters they’d found along the beach, from hopeful, faraway souls – most begging for a reply, some acknowledgment that their message was received.
But along with the bottled notes comes a lot of other foul stuff – trash from Africa and Europe. Neon signs, hard-hats – you name it, it winds up on the Antiguan beach. Other people’s careless actions, wreaking havoc on a distant environment, cause a mess on a Caribbean beach that Antiguans are left to clean up.
The feeling on climate change is much the same: we didn’t cause this problem, but we now must deal with the consequences.
During our two days in Antigua and Grenada, we saw and heard a lot about how the environment is changing. Coastal erosion is a huge problem – whole beaches have disappeared and what’s left is often held up with rocks and retaining walls. Barrier reefs are dying, leaving the weak coast even more vulnerable. Locals also say the weather is changing. It’s unpredictable, and when it comes – as Hurricane Ivan did in 2004 to Grenada, which rarely sees hurricanes – it causes indescribable destruction. Tourism dominates the economies of both countries. But bad weather and no beaches mean no tourists, and that spells trouble.
Both countries admit that they’ve caused a lot of damage themselves. Sand mining in Grenada and intense development in Antigua have done their fair share to beat up the beach. Many scientists we spoke to said these factors — along with El Nino — make it that much harder to pinpoint the effects of climate change. But whatever the cause, these governments feel they need to start cleaning up their acts, and urge the rest of the world to do the same.
Small island nations all around the world have banded together to make some waves before the Copenhagen climate talks in December. Their slogan is “1.5 to Stay Alive — a catchy phrase, but a dead-serious message. They say if the world’s temperature increases more than another 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the seas may rise so high that many of their nations could literally disappear underwater.
During interviews, government officials were polite and optimistic about their campaign. But off-camera, many admitted that achieving the goals of the “1.5” campaign would require emissions cuts too drastic for many other world players to accept. They seethed especially at the United States, which they see as too beholden to its domestic politics to negotiate seriously.
But their message is desperate, and these countries don’t want to be ignored. They say it’s a matter of survival. They have packaged their campaign with press conferences, slick videos, publicity stunts, and this trip for international journalists. In December, they will travel across the oceans to the Copenhagen summit, hoping their message will be heard and acknowledged, and not lost like a floating bottle, swallowed by the ever-warming seas.
– Megan Thompson