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Islands like the Bahamas are paying the price for wealthier nations’ emissions — an injustice crying out for a global remedy.
This May — 20 months after Hurricane Dorian unleashed its cruelty upon my Bahamas — I looked down from an airplane’s window and could see land that was still visibly wounded. Grand Bahama and the Abacos were once covered in dark green foliage that complemented the emerald waters; now long stretches had faded to brown, even gray. Two-story waves had blown apart wide sections of shoreline. Once-gorgeous mangrove swamps — habitat for algae and crabs and bonefish, and the land’s defense against a storm’s surge — were overwhelmed by Dorian’s salt water, and large swaths of them lay dead, their brittle shells shimmering in the heat. The same fate befell the abundant indigenous Caribbean pine trees, which take decades to grow to their towering heights of over 100 feet. They need fresh water to survive, so when the ocean stretched upon the land and sat there for days, it killed acres of them.
Interspersed between the dead mangroves and fields of mangled bark I would find still-marred neighborhoods. Concrete toppled. Roofs missing. Debris scattered. Some blocks looked akin to the aftermath of rapture: Those taken were not taken gently, and those granted enough mercy to survive had stories so harrowing they approached the point of legend. One man was flung high into a massive gum tree and remained there until rescue arrived. Another man and his son, almost swept away by the flood, managed to hang on to the trunk of a pine. By the end of the storm, they had no skin left on their arms.