How Stronger, Wetter Hurricanes are Changing Caribbean Life and Culture

Caribbean islands are often the first to be hit by hurricanes before they reach the continental US. Living with severe storms is built into the culture, but as hurricanes become stronger, more intense, and dump more water, Caribbean people are now forced to rethink how they prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

These panelists have a candid conversation on how climate change is supercharging hurricanes, changing Caribbean island communities and culture. Panelists discuss issues including climate migration, generational trauma, and survivor’s guilt. Watch the full conversation here.

Marjahn Finlayson

On how changes in humidity help supercharge hurricanes:

“We’re seeing more changes in humidity. So humidity has a big role in intensifying tropical cyclones and hurricanes in the region. So you’re seeing more humidity in the air trapped and more moisture that actually fuels those. And when we see more increases of specific humidity, we have an idea that with the increase of humidity, it adds to the tropical cyclones intensifying, more convection and more precipitation, which is very scary for folks in Caribbean nations and folks who live on the coast of the U.S.

If we continue doing the same thing in about 30 years, by 2050, we can expect more frequent storms that would hit the Greater Antilles of the Caribbean. So the Northern areas. So you get more storms in Jamaica, Cuba, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and other places, like Antigua and Barbuda and Antilles wouldn’t get as impacted.”

On what’s happening in the Caribbean to increase the frequency of storms:

“When Dorian hit, it was something completely different. No one had known what would happen. And I can say to this day, the recovery isn’t as strong. The aftermath was just, it was terrible. It was truly awful. They’re still recovering. There are still hospitals that have to be built. I could personally say, I don’t think that efforts were as aggressive as they could’ve been to help people, but it was … So come to this hurricane season, when I think Hurricane Isaias was passing over and it was a category one. I remember there were people here who were so scared of a category one hurricane who had never been scared before. So it was very, very new.”

On environmental racism:

“If there is actual research that goes into what does the community need, what does the meteorological office in The Bahamas need versus what does my university want to study, that might be very effective in being less white saviory.

We have issues where you have actual people who come to these places and look down on people. For example, if you go into a Caribbean nation and there’s already an assumption, an implicit bias that the Caribbean is full of folks who live in huts. So that implies you have a very basic education compared to someone who had grown up my whole life in England and not lived in a hut, right?

So you come to this place and you have an implicit bias that these people are dumb, they don’t really know what I know, and I know better than them. Just because something looks different to you doesn’t mean it gives you the right to assume that you’re better than anyone.”

Ramon Cruz

Growing up with hurricanes:

“Growing up in the 80s, it was actually, as a kid, and I must say as a privileged kid in a relatively well off upper middle class or whatever neighborhood, actually I associated hurricanes with fun because I remember … And again, I mean, I must say that not everybody would have had the same privileges. But we had a concrete house, so our house was secure.

There was no electricity for say a week. And right after a hurricane, everybody had to cook everything because it was going to get bad. So it was basically like a major cookout where, for a couple of days, people were just hanging out outside. I was playing with all my friends. There was plenty of food there. And for the most part things went back to normal after a week or two. And that was the 80s into the 90s.”

The last decade basically has been devastating because now people … Definitely there’s nobody that would say or no kid would have said that the experience after Hurricane Maria was pleasant.”

On the importance of island self-resiliency:

“When it comes to energy, (it’s important) to have electric grids that are much more decentralized and that rely much less on important fuels. For example, in the Caribbean, we’re not a region that produces fossil fuels. So therefore, we should look into a more resilient grid that is focused on renewable energy. And again, those technologies are there already. So we should focus on having energy independence.”

Climate change causes insecurity:

“So I don’t think we would know for a while the mental effect in society, because it is huge. The amount of people that had to migrate and people migrate wherever you can.

People have this notion that people just want to come to the US because the US is great. And no, most people that have migrated to the US have migrated because that’s the only option that they may have at that moment. So if Puerto Ricans came here in massive migrations, it’s not because we wanted to leave the island. It’s because there are no livelihoods for many people there and they chose to migrate.”

Why it’s important to call out racism:

“You have to call it out (implicit bias) because, I mean, there’s something that comes from especially, say, for white male, he’s the ultimate, he’s at the top of the ladder. That there’s some inherited confidence that comes from not ever being questioned.

And I know that it’s a burden and that it’s more responsibility on us, but we have to call it out and we have to be able to educate for the betterment. We have to educate them because we have more experiences and a diverse set of experiences that would allow us to comprehend this in a much better way.”

I Heart Climate Voices is a blog about the people and scientists who stand up for our climate. #StandUpforScience #ClimateJustice

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