Climate Change and Irma Have Destroyed Barbuda, Devastated Puerto Rico and Provided a View of the Future: What Do We Do?

Friday I was listening to the news on my way home from recording my radio show. In quick order I heard part of the speech by Barbuda Prime Minister to the UN; I heard a report on the impact of Graham-Cassidy on people living with cancer; I heard about the underground radiation plume that threatens a local aquifer, then an intro began on growing tensions with North Korea. I turned off the radio. But as a community we cannot turn off the radio. We must react and resist.

Crisis fatigue. It’s easy to understand. It’s why I had to turn off the radio. On any given night, Roxanne and I watch Democracy Now!, usually while prepping dinner. About 10-15 minutes in, Amy Goodman announces, “And that’s the day’s headlines…” Most every day, one or the other of us says, “Ugh, those are only the headlines?” I admit, there have been times we just agree to put on some music, uncork some wine, and call it a day. There is only so much one can take.

But when I got home yesterday, the 3-minute clip of the talk by Antigua-Barbuda Prime Minister Browne gnawed at me. I decided to listen to the entire speech and take notes. What I learned was absolutely knee-buckling. Browne described how every resident of Barbuda had lost all their possessions, their homes, and that their entire community had been utterly “emasculated.”  It’s hard to imagine this, but it’s important that we dwell on it and not turn off the reality, as while the US will certainly face more climate change prompted disasters, the US has the resources to respond, to recover. But scientists well understand that it is developing countries that will bear the brunt of climate change….. Our climate change, the one our lifestyle has created. We may have protested, we may have put solar panels on our roof or purchased a hybrid, but we live an entitled life made richer by our reliance on oil, gas, and coal. And while we may need to find some revenue somewhere to rebuild Houston and to restore Florida, we have the resources to do so and to ultimately restore both to normal. Barbuda likely will never see normal again:

  • Barbuda lost 95% of all dwellings during Irma;
  • The entire island had to be evacuated;
  • The island is utterly uninhabitable with no running water, no sewage system, no power. Nothing.

To hear these realities from the Prime Minister was so moving I had to dig deeper. What I found was:

  • Overnight, the neighboring island of Antigua had to absorb the entire population of Barbuda, the equivalent of 3% of its own population, and find shelter, food, healthcare, and ultimately employment for these now homeless people….3% didn’t sound so daunting until I did the math. That is the equivalent of almost 10 million Americans — to put this in perspective, the entire city of New York has only 8.5 million residents.
  • The estimate for what it would cost to rebuild Barbuda is equal to 50% of that nation’s Gross Domestic Product. While the Prime Minister did not put a dollar figure on that, I dug a bit. Fifty percent of U.S. GDP is $9.25 Trillion. Just how bad a disaster could the US experience that would require $9.2 Trillion to recover?  You could rebuild Houston 200 times for that. What Barbuda faces is truly unimaginable.
  • And here is the thing that really shocked me: Venezuela, a country economically crippled and nearly bankrupt, was the first nation to offer financial aid. During his speech, Browne identified Cuba, China, Canada, and even Dominica as relief donors. Guess which country has offered zero? The USA. Sure, any number of relief funds have been established here in the US, but our government hasn’t offered a dime. It gets worse….
  • In 2003 the US violated an international trade agreement with Barbuda. In 2009 the US had exhausted all appeals and was found guilty of violating trade agreements at a cost of $200 million to Barbuda. What’s more, over the past 13 years since the US began to abuse trade agreements with Barbuda, the US has generated a $2 billion trade surplus with that country. The Prime Minister noted that with just one-tenth of the US trade surplus, the US could rebuild Barbuda entirely. Yet we have not offered a dime. The greedy get wealthy and those subject to our greed can only grovel.

I ask that you watch the two-minute video below showing the destruction of Barbuda. No photo and even the numbers above do not convey the scale of this unimaginable destruction. Then listen to the speech by Prime Minister Browne and consider that there will be many other Prime Ministers from Africa, India, the Caribbean, and South and Central America making similar appeals in the coming years. Indeed, today due to the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico lies in rubble and much like Barbuda has been economically enslaved by US and World Bank economic policy.

The Prime Minister cited Abraham Lincoln: “We can not endure as a nation half slave and half free.” Browne then put that statement into international terms, projecting much of the world as being economically enslaved while the 1% live free of any consequences of their greed.

After viewing the videos below and considering our role in climate change and the meekness of a petition, a call, or even a rally, I wondered: What kind of dramatic action could Santa Fe or any community take to make an indelible impression, to shift the conversation irreversibly and to mobilize a sustained resistance? When does the moment arrive when as a nation we agree that we need to move beyond shock and signing petitions and do something utterly dramatic to underscore in bold letters that this is not ok, that our privilege is causing this, and we are ready to put our bodies on the line?

I have reported that Retake will be playing a lead role in training our community in civil disobedience as part of a 25-state New Poor People’s Campaign. While that campaign will call upon people in 25 states to launch simultaneous and sustained acts of civil disobedience over a six week period, the campaign has not revealed any explicit plans for what form that civil disobedience might take. So, in the meantime, I ask: What could Santa Fe do? What could any community do to create a substantial shift?  What could we do that makes the point with utter clarity?

Barbuda is but one manifestation of the insanity of our world, a world that whether we like it or not, we have helped to create. How many times do we have to turn off the TV or the radio before we turn up our volume to a deafening roar?  I am interested in responses.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne


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4 replies

  1. Hi Paul. You have my respect. Pragmatic waffling lost any validity long ago. You have, as my WW2 father used to say, grabbed the bull by the horns. Our overarching enslavement to white priviledge keeps us completely impotent, Marx saw this 150 years ago. Only the scale of denial has changed, and the disastrous consequences of that shameful behavior. We must not only speak, but also act with truth to power. Power’s massive weakness is its lies. Attack the lies and the liars. You and Roxanne are solid folk and we all need to hear you. Again and again.

  2. Paul,

    I suggest:

    Pulling together a team of people who have knowledge about this issue in New Mexico and Santa Fe to brainstorm and propose an action plan, including a dramatic display of nonviolent civil disobedience.

    Reviewing the Leap Manifesto and how that can be applied to New Mexico/Santa Fe.

    Pushing the Catholic church in Santa Fe to discuss the Pope’s plea for addressing climate change. They have influence here and tend to preach about abortion and traditional marriage and not much else.

    Finally, I know this is “sacred territory”, but I cannot help but ask why LANL has only a few scientists studying climate change (apparently, this is what I was told by one of its spokespeople) while all else is for building “better” nuclear weapons?

    It seems to me there are three key components: exposure again and again, unrelenting pressure and unpleasant consequences (e.g. loss of office or business)

    I’d be happy to be part of getting something started with you.


    • First of all, there are a bunch of federal agencies involved in climate change research. To get an overview one can consult the website There are thirteen different agencies contributing research on various aspects of climate change. Some of these are obvious candidates (EPA, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation) while others wouldn’t come immediately to mind (State, Health and Human Services, Agency for International Development).

      If one considers the various areas of research on climate change, one can group it into three broad areas:

      1) Meteorology and climate science
      2) Activities that contribute to greenhouse gas production or reduce sequestration (primarily electricity production, transportation and agriculture)
      3) How things will be impacted by climate change. (Pretty much everything, but covers such diverse topics as how sea level rise impacts naval port facilities to potential draught induced famines produced by a changing climate).

      Research in the first area will naturally fall primarily to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (in the Department of Commerce). The third research area touches just about every agency, but sees a heavy concentration in the Departments of Commerce, Interior and Agriculture.

      The second research area is going to fall on the EPA and the Departments of Energy, Transportation and Agriculture. The Department of Energy clearly focuses on all aspects of energy production and usage, with a great deal of relevant data and research provided by the Energy Information Administration and research on renewables provided in depth by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (both in the DOE).

      With its origins as a weapons lab, LANL’s areas of expertise and staffing tends to be concentrated in some specialized areas of physics and chemistry as well as mechanical and electrical engineering with some computer science thrown in in recent years. These particular areas of expertise aren’t necessarily well suited for application to the research areas listed above.

      • Thank you! I was unclear in what I was suggesting, which is to address climate change specifically as it relates to New Mexico. I imagine that in New Mexico there are particular issues that need attention, such as fracking at Chaco Canyon and elsewhere, the coal industry, PNM, etc. I know there are groups like New Energy Economy and Global Warming Express, and I wonder if these could create together a proposal to present to the city and state government, and the public, responses to climate change that the individual, city and state can take. Perhaps this is already all known, and the issue is the will to do it.

        It was very helpful to read your comment about LANL, I just find it appalling that so much funding is going towards weapons when we are in the midst of a climate catastrophe and are in need of ways to respond to the disasters we are seeing. I imagine that at LANL they are quite aware of the effects of climate change and how it will effect their storage and security of weapons, materials, etc. and the ongoing issue of toxic waste in the surrounding communities.

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