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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, August 12, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesThe V.I. from a Distance: Living in Harmony with Nature (Pt. 4)

The V.I. from a Distance: Living in Harmony with Nature (Pt. 4)

In our reactionary age, the willfully ignorant and their corporate masters have created enough uncertainty to block meaningful action on climate change and a range of other environmental issues. The United States, once the global leader on the environment, is now a laggard and a source of resistance to positive change.

If the Republican Party had also regained control of the U.S. Senate in November, its leading environmental spokesman would have been an oil company-owned embarrassment named James Inhofe. Using tactics developed by the chemical and tobacco industries, the oil industry has created enough doubt to stop any meaningful action on climate change in the United States. It is a sad time, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the country and the planet. And even as evidence mounts that the pace of climate change is accelerating, fewer Americans believe that it is real.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is not going to be the tail that wags the dog on this issue. Its range of actions is limited, but those limits should not be used to produce the standard “shrinking violet” approach: if the federal government isn’t doing anything meaningful, what can we do? The answer is: a lot. If there is the political will, a sense of urgency, enough trust and the social cohesion to do it.

How has the territory dealt with its extraordinary natural heritage? There is a lot here that is clearly beyond the control of the V.I. people. If rising sea levels wipe out the world’s beaches, those in the territory will be lost also. If storms become more violent, emergency preparation will be the only effective response.

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But inevitability and fatalism are crutches that can be used to deny what is possible and doable at the local level. And, there is a clear benchmark for all of the countries of the region as they seek solutions to these problems. Dominica has pioneered protection of the natural environment in the Caribbean, and it continues to lead the way. There is no need to look to the U.S. government or mainland think tanks for ideas and guidance. By defining what is possible, Dominica has given others a standard for understanding how far they have to go.

In grading performance, there are three issues that lower the territory’s grade. The first is unwise development, which has damaged the territory’s natural beauty, as well as the overall environment. The second is the failure to take bold action on energy. Problems one and two are largely political, and reflect the fact that elected officials tend to represent narrow interest groups, rather than the community as a whole.

The third is a failure on the part of some people to take care of the place, litter being a barometer of that indifference, and of others for not frontally addressing this failure. That being said, there is a strong environmental sense in the U.S. Virgin Islands and a lot of smart and dedicated people who are connected to nature and working on these critical issues.

This brings us back to the conditions for success: political will, a sense of urgency and trust and social cohesion. Dominica is a far more cohesive society than the territory, and that cohesion has allowed it to move ahead of others. Political will in the territory is usually harnessed to the needs and wants of small groups and individuals rather than the general good of all. There is rarely a sense of urgency, and levels of trust across races, classes and islands are not high. Can the still (more or less) abstract threat of climate change be a vehicle for bringing people together around the common good?

Grade: C+: The U.S. Virgin Islands has talent, high levels of environmental intelligence and awareness, and many people with an unparalleled love of the natural environment. If it weren’t for the forces of inertia and pessimism, this grade would be much higher.

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In our reactionary age, the willfully ignorant and their corporate masters have created enough uncertainty to block meaningful action on climate change and a range of other environmental issues. The United States, once the global leader on the environment, is now a laggard and a source of resistance to positive change.

If the Republican Party had also regained control of the U.S. Senate in November, its leading environmental spokesman would have been an oil company-owned embarrassment named James Inhofe. Using tactics developed by the chemical and tobacco industries, the oil industry has created enough doubt to stop any meaningful action on climate change in the United States. It is a sad time, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the country and the planet. And even as evidence mounts that the pace of climate change is accelerating, fewer Americans believe that it is real.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is not going to be the tail that wags the dog on this issue. Its range of actions is limited, but those limits should not be used to produce the standard “shrinking violet” approach: if the federal government isn’t doing anything meaningful, what can we do? The answer is: a lot. If there is the political will, a sense of urgency, enough trust and the social cohesion to do it.

How has the territory dealt with its extraordinary natural heritage? There is a lot here that is clearly beyond the control of the V.I. people. If rising sea levels wipe out the world’s beaches, those in the territory will be lost also. If storms become more violent, emergency preparation will be the only effective response.

But inevitability and fatalism are crutches that can be used to deny what is possible and doable at the local level. And, there is a clear benchmark for all of the countries of the region as they seek solutions to these problems. Dominica has pioneered protection of the natural environment in the Caribbean, and it continues to lead the way. There is no need to look to the U.S. government or mainland think tanks for ideas and guidance. By defining what is possible, Dominica has given others a standard for understanding how far they have to go.

In grading performance, there are three issues that lower the territory’s grade. The first is unwise development, which has damaged the territory’s natural beauty, as well as the overall environment. The second is the failure to take bold action on energy. Problems one and two are largely political, and reflect the fact that elected officials tend to represent narrow interest groups, rather than the community as a whole.

The third is a failure on the part of some people to take care of the place, litter being a barometer of that indifference, and of others for not frontally addressing this failure. That being said, there is a strong environmental sense in the U.S. Virgin Islands and a lot of smart and dedicated people who are connected to nature and working on these critical issues.

This brings us back to the conditions for success: political will, a sense of urgency and trust and social cohesion. Dominica is a far more cohesive society than the territory, and that cohesion has allowed it to move ahead of others. Political will in the territory is usually harnessed to the needs and wants of small groups and individuals rather than the general good of all. There is rarely a sense of urgency, and levels of trust across races, classes and islands are not high. Can the still (more or less) abstract threat of climate change be a vehicle for bringing people together around the common good?

Grade: C+: The U.S. Virgin Islands has talent, high levels of environmental intelligence and awareness, and many people with an unparalleled love of the natural environment. If it weren’t for the forces of inertia and pessimism, this grade would be much higher.