A number of roads led me to Paris for COP21. The first was the tremendous passion and resolve built at our last Waterkeeper Alliance conference in Boulder earlier in 2015. Then, based on that enthusiasm and desire to be part of the global effort to reduce and mitigate climate change, I attended the Al Gore dynamic Climate Change Reality leadership training course held in Miami this past June.
The third was Hurricane Joaquin, which very dramatically and directly affected my island nation as it swept through the central part of the Bahama island chain. While I sat in those training sessions on Miami Beach, I was watched with trepidation as the storm roared through five of our islands, including the island of Long Island, my native home.
Immediately upon my return to the Bahamas, I helped organize a particular relief effort to that island and accompanied a group to bring supplies to persons who had lost all possessions. In a large number of cases, homes were totally destroyed, not only from the ferocity of the winds, but from the unprecedented rise of the seas and ocean as many homes were completely immersed in waves of ocean water, some ten to fifteen feet high. My home, where I grew up to teenage years, was one of the homes destroyed by Joaquin.
Those events and many other telltale local signs of ocean rise and coastal erosion evident on many of our islands, fueled my passion and impetus to be part of the Paris COP21. I could contribute to the current body of information and evidence related to climate change. What I witnessed, from the individual discussions to dramatic demonstrations of global effects from climate change have given me overdose of urgency to do all in my power be a true leader for my country in the climate change reality.
The Google display in Paris was indeed my favorite, for it gave a minute-by-minute visual of what is happening globally. At that exhibition, I was able to interact with presenters as they responded to my request to display certain islands in the Bahamas, thus enabling me to provide commentary. It was a further dramatic verification of the concern felt by my colleagues and me in Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas, as we fight for the cessation of the destruction of the very elements of the ecosystem designed naturally to mitigate against damaging storms and climate changes.
It was a special privilege to be part of a small group of Waterkeepers presenting at the French-Chinese NGO’s at the conference. Maia Raposo, Hao Xin and I gave informative and spirited talks with the group, pertaining to our individual areas of greatest concern regarding our precious environment. [Unfortunately Vanessa Haley-Benjamin was ill and could not be present.]
I personally had the unique experience of traveling with a team to the outskirts of Paris to witness the method of extracting fresh, clean and filtered water directly from the air. The is a practical means of bringing clean water to many places, relevant to islands like mine in the Bahamas, especially following severe storms when freshwater is no longer available locally.
I have long been an advocate for environmental justice for all, especially our children. The occasions and events from which I have come have given me an abundance of tools – information, experience and techniques with which to address the strategies necessary to affect climate change through preparation, education and mitigation. I wish to thank the three organizations which have in recent times given me this unique opportunity to acquire this practical knowledge and experience in greater depth to continue my life’s mission: Save The Bays, Waterkeeper Alliance and Climate Change Reality.
At the summit, we Waterkeepers made valuable connections with environmental rights and justice lawyers who have committed their expertise and resources to assist us in our struggle to foster a greater appreciation of the treasures belonging to all of us and especially to future generations. And hopefully, having now attended COP21 in Paris, our nation’s leaders, as my colleague Vanessa and I do, will take a radical, practical and dynamic look at every facet of our delicate archipelagic nation needing dire attention. We still have a country with some ninety percent of its ecosystems intact. However, as our islands of gems are being eyed by foreign investors willing to destroy our unique and natural beauty with their mega developments, we the people must also fight to protect the destruction of our sustainable environment. It is our path.
Chairman, Save The Bays
Bahamas Waterkeepers (Bimini Waterkeeper)