Minister of Tourism, Kerrie Symmonds, has urged local and international media to highlight the “existential threat” of climate change and global warming on small islands like Barbados.
He was speaking at the Tourism Media Awards, an event hosted by the Barbados Tourism and Marketing Inc. to recognize excellence in global coverage of destination Barbados on Wednesday, October 17, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
Lauding both traditional and new media awardees, he explained that he saw them as developmental partners who helped small economies like Barbados to sell the tourism product “in a way that we could not pay for”.
“In a very heartfelt and personal way, you give living testimony and proof to the fact that the pen is mightier than the sword…. Whatever aspect or sub-sector of the tourism product that you write about, or you capture by way of your lens, which is even mightier than the pen, you tell a story. That story provokes the imagination and interests of the people… and as a policymaker I am eternally indebted to you,” he said.
Praising the media for keeping Barbados in the “forefront of people’s understanding and appetite for pleasure”, he also called on them to “go on a journey” to awaken the capitals of the world to the threat that exists to the survival of these tiny islands in the Caribbean.
The Tourism Minister lamented: “We are a civilization that is facing tremendous peril…. It is an existential threat, which we are quite frankly almost powerless to confront. And it is in this regard that I enlist tonight your support.”
He said according to reports by the International Energy Agency, the island’s major travel partners – the European Union and the United States of America – were among the top three offenders in the production of dangerous greenhouse gases which lead to global warming.
“They would tell you that the United States of America follows behind China, in being the second of the offenders, and that they produce 5.6 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases every year and that the European Union follows in third position, behind China and the United States of America, producing 4.5 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. In contradistinction, we in the Caribbean, on average, produce about 500 000 tonnes of greenhouse gases,” Minister Symmonds stated.
Stressing that “clearly we cannot be the polluters”, he noted that the disproportionate effects of the same “climatic event” would impact continental United States very differently to how it would impact a Caribbean island.
Pointing to Barbuda as well as Rugged Island in the Bahamas, which were both evacuated after Hurricane Maria in 2017, he said if a similar climatic event hit the USA, only part of a state would be evacuated.
He further noted that 80 per cent of housing stock in Dominica was destroyed by Maria, and a year later, the island was still replenishing its stock. Referring to Hurricane Ivan, which hit Grenada in 2004, he recalled that it took that island five to six years to rebuild its housing stock.
“So, what I am speaking to you about is an existential threat, it is a threat to the very survival of all that we are celebrating tonight because without these islands being able to do that which we do, our investment, our culture, our heritage all that you’ve written about, and all that you’ve helped the world to understand about us, has come to nothing, or will come to nothing, because we can all be destroyed within the space of a 24 hour period.
“I am asking you to raise your voices as voices for change…. I’m asking you to use your pens and to use the camera lens to help tell the story in the corridors of power from Washington to London and beyond, so that people will come to understand that serious and concrete policy discussion must take place, if we are not to imperil the survival prospects of these islands and all of us who will live on them.
“For me, you have a binary choice, on one hand, you can use your pens and your photographic lenses as vehicles for change or on the other hand you can allow silence to prevail… I fervently hope and pray you don’t choose the latter route because the survival of this region depends on it,” Minister Symmonds stressed.