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Hurricane season, the environment and plastics

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In the past we used to have a saying that characterised the annual hurricane season by beginning with “June too soon….” and ending with “October, all over”. But those were the days before the impact of climate change began to be felt and when we thought that the hurricane season was confined to July, August and September.

The events of recent years including hurricane-like rains and flooding on Christmas Eve 2013, have made that old saying irrelevant. If we were not yet convinced, another illustration has just been forcibly given. The hurricane season officially begins on June 1, but this year one week before, hurricane Alberto struck the southern US coast and Cuba causing significant damage and reportedly seven deaths in that sister Caribbean island.

Our solidarity is extended to those affected. We must also sympathize with the people of Guatemala where the Fuego volcano is wreaking such havoc, destruction and loss of lives. We in SVG are not only in the hurricane belt but also live with an active volcano which can become another Fuego any day. We must be conscious of our own vulnerability.

I must commend those governments in the Eastern Caribbean which have been making efforts to ramp up the state of preparedness of our people, in order to be able to respond to such disasters. Our own Prime Minister and the disaster preparedness agency, NEMO, have been in the forefront recently, while in neighbouring St Lucia, its own NEMO this week had a preparedness seminar which focused on trying to ensure that in a disaster the main port can remain in a state where it can receive and accommodate relief efforts. This is a neglected area in our region and last year’s example in Dominica demonstrated how it could have catastrophic consequences.

It is regrettable that there are still among us some attitudes which are not only unhealthy where disaster preparedness is concerned, but downright dangerous. For instance, in spite of all that has happened here over the past decade, because we have not been directly hit by a major hurricane, there are still those who undermine preparation efforts by wishfully claiming that our country is “blessed” and hence, will escape any major hurricane.

Worse, there is a nasty side of our political tribalism which manifests itself in real “dotishness”. I have heard people say to others that we already have “hurricane Ralph” so we can’t be hit by any other. That downright subversion of our consciousness indicates the deterioration in a lot of our level of thinking in recent years, being unable to separate rabid partisan politics from the national interests.

It has its effects as well in the undermining of the willingness of many persons to engage in collective community efforts to clean up our communities and otherwise to prepare for the hurricane season. Some ask questions like, “who go pay me fo’ dat?”, as if such preparation does not benefit us all. Disaster preparedness is the responsibility of us all.

Let me give another example of this growing negativity in our midst. June 5 is celebrated globally as World Environment Day and this year the theme chosen was “Beat Plastic Pollution”. There is good reason for this. Since the large-scale manufacture of plastics began in the 50s, over 8 billion tonnes of plastic has been manufactured. Most of this is what is caused single-use plastic, from polyethylene (petroleum-based) which can take up to 500 years to degrade.

Studies have revealed that only 9 percent of this 8 billion tonnes is recycled, 12 percent incinerated, so the vast amount lies in landfills or in the natural environment (air, rivers, sea and soil). In the case of the oceans, the Secretary General of the United Nations points out that8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the oceans annually and that if this continues there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by the year 2050.

Thus the message for this year, has been given as, “Reject single-use plastics…Refuse what we can’t re-use”. In keeping with this, many supermarkets in developed countries no longer give out free plastic bags, you must purchase them if so desired. In the USA, the use of bio-degradable paper bags is a long-standing practice. Chile has banned plastic bags in coastal communities from May 30; Mexico City prohibited supermarkets from giving away free plastic bags since 2009; Buenos Aires did so from January 2017, and Sao Paulo in Brazil as well.

Yet there are people here complaining about massy supermarket’s efforts in this regard. We should be applauding and pressuring other supermarkets to do the same. It is in our, and especially our children’s long-term future. We have a long way to go in combating negative thinking and in positive and conscious environmental and disaster-preparedness thinking.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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