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Science, Not Scaremongering: St. Vincent & Grenadines PM on Hurricane Beryl & Climate Crisis

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As the earliest Category 5 storm ever observed in the Atlantic carves a path of destruction through the Caribbean, we get an update on damage from Hurricane Beryl from the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, where the storm hit Tuesday. He describes the disaster scenes he witnessed and discusses the rising challenge of extreme weather fueled by the climate crisis. “The developed countries, the major emitters, are not taking this matter seriously,” says Gonsalves. He says the world must dramatically reduce emissions and that the current political and economic system is “driving all of us towards, if not extinction, to a terrible, inhospitable place called Earth.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Residents of Jamaica are bracing for life-threatening winds and storm surge as Hurricane Beryl is likely to make landfall this afternoon. The now-Category 4 storm has left a trail of devastation across the Caribbean, killing at least six people, wiping away large swaths of the island of Carriacou in Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where most homes on Union Island have been completely destroyed. Jamaica and the Cayman Islands remain under a hurricane warning.

Ahead of the storm’s arrival, the Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness called for stronger climate action from wealthier nations.

PRIME MINISTER ANDREW HOLNESS: Hurricane Beryl is the earliest Category 5 hurricane on record. It highlights the growing impact of climate change on global weather patterns, particularly on small island developing states like Jamaica. While our carbon emissions are minuscule, our region bears the brunt of the impacts of climate change. The hurricane further highlights the urgent need for global climate action and targeted support to enhance resilience against the escalating dangers of climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Only two other hurricanes have made landfall in Jamaica in the last 40 years. Beryl is expected to bring several inches of rainfall that could flood Jamaica’s coast. Beryl had strengthened to a Category 5 Tuesday after devastating the Windward Islands. The storm is expected to head into Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula by Friday. Beryl is by far the earliest Category 5 storm ever observed in the Atlantic and comes as climate scientists predict an extremely active 2024 hurricane season.

For more, we’re going to St. Vincent. We’re joined by Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Prime Minister, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what you just saw as you toured the disaster area?

PRIME MINISTER RALPH GONSALVES: Thank you very much for having me.

In the southern Grenadines of our archipelago, which is — of 32 islands, nine are inhabited. What we have in the south is really Beryl’s Amageddon. Union Island is flattened. That’s an island of 2,500 persons. Mayreau, similarly, with a hundred family homes, and Canouan, somewhere between Mayreau and Union Island in terms of population, that they’re all severely damaged. In fact, on Union Island, everybody is homeless, similarly in Mayreau. It’s terrible. I went there yesterday to Union Island. And we were evacuating persons yesterday. About 300 came out. And we are going to continue the evacuation today. We’re taking a lot of food and supplies. It’s going to be a Herculean effort to rebuild. And though Union and Mayreau and Canouan and the resort islands of Petit Saint Vincent and Palm Island — though they are by far the worst hit, what we have had in Bequia and on the main island of St. Vincent is also terrible. It’s just awful.

And as Andrew Holness said, these are — what we see here are the consequences of a rampaging climate change. We are in the era of Anthropocene. And the developed countries, the major emitters, are not taking this matter seriously. The world, if we don’t move to net zero, we are going to be a very inhospitable place to be in another two, three decades. I mean, this is not scaremongering; this is science. And we are on the frontlines of this.

This, the devastation wrought in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is going to be hundreds of millions of dollars. I wouldn’t be surprised, at the end of it, that we’re probably going to have to rebuild upwards of a thousand homes. And it’s a country with 46,000 households. So, you will see the magnitude of that. And then we have to repair others and public buildings, the disaster at the seashore, you know, the erosion of the land, the land degradation because of the raging seas. We are, in a sense, going up a down escalator. Every time we make some progress, we get hit by these natural disasters, and we have to start afresh.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Prime Minister — 

PRIME MINISTER RALPH GONSALVES: And every time, we have fresh work.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Prime Minister, I’m wondering —  the main airport, Argyle International Airport, has been significantly impacted. What is — what about the arrival of relief and recovery supplies? When do you expect the airport to reopen for regular operations?

PRIME MINISTER RALPH GONSALVES: Well, fortunately, we had done a lot of preparation at Argyle International. And we can fly in and out there — we did so yesterday — for emergency supplies. And hopefully, we are going to be in a situation to have commercial traffic after midday today.

We are engaging entities and agencies across the Caribbean. We had a meeting of the Caribbean Community heads of government yesterday morning. The governments across the world, in North America, in Venezuela and Cuba and Europe, they are all contacting us. The secretary-general of the United Nations, my friend António Guterres, he is in Central Asia. He still is in Central Asia, called me yesterday, and he’s making appeal for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. And we probably have to do a pledging conference jointly with Grenada. It’s a difficult time ahead. The Americans have a saying, I think, that, you know, if you have an 800-pound gorilla, try to eat it one bite at a time. This is horrendous.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned the CARICOM community. The 20-nation community’s leaders were supposed to meet this week in Grenada. What are the updates on that summit? Will it be rescheduled?

PRIME MINISTER RALPH GONSALVES: That will be rescheduled, but we had a virtual meeting yesterday. We are fortunate still to have that telecommunication possibility. But in St. Vincent and in Grenadines, we are without electricity in most of the places, and the telecommunication systems are very sketchy. Sometimes they’re up, sometimes they’re down. Of course, in the southern Grenadines, it’s like a different age altogether. It’s a — imagine an island where everybody is homeless.

AMY GOODMAN: Prime Minister —

PRIME MINISTER RALPH GONSALVES: The faces of men and women are strained and anxious.

AMY GOODMAN: Prime Minister Ralph —


AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Hi. Prime Minister Gonsalves, you’ve quoted — you’ve been quoted recently calling the annual U.N. climate summit, the COP, a “largely talk shop.” What final message do you have for the United States, for the Western nations, when it comes to this climate catastrophe?

PRIME MINISTER RALPH GONSALVES: Well, I want to say to the climate deniers: Get real. And I want to say to those who know about climate change: Let’s do some walking rather than just talking. And for the populations as a whole, they must call their leaders to account, and they must insist that this matter, this existential matter for all humanity, be addressed with urgency. We have to get net zero by 2050.

I noticed in the United States of America one candidate is saying, “Drill, baby, drill,” and to cause more emissions and denying climate change exists, you know, and so on and so forth. We have to get real with this.

And we have a lot of promises being made by developed countries, and hardly any of them are being fulfilled. So, we get the more intense, the more severe hurricanes, and oscillating with droughts, land degradation. It’s all different sides of the same coin. It’s established by science. So, I’m hoping that programs like yours — and I listen to you all the time, Amy — that will hold a progressive line on these matters, and that progressive peoples the world over will unite on this vital existential question.

We don’t have climate justice. The international financial institutions are not aligned to help. Now, we’re going to have hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure which we have to recover and rebuild. By the time you get a project or get some resources put together through the World Bank, it’s three, four years down the road. By then, you have an accumulation of other disasters. And as I say, you’re going up the down escalator. It’s just terrible, and it’s so unfair, and it’s unjust. But more than that, the [selfishness] of the current dominant political economy in the world, that it’s driving all of us towards, if not extinction, to a terrible, inhospitable place called Earth.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ralph Gonsalves, we thank you so much for being with us, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for joining us from St. Vincent.

Next up, yet another mass displacement of Palestinians in Gaza as the Israeli military issues evacuation orders for up to a quarter of a million people in eastern Rafah and Khan Younis. Already the death toll is near 39,000. We’ll go to Gaza to speak with a doctor who was forced to evacuate from European Hospital. Stay with us.

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