The Bahamas lie directly in the cross-hairs of climate change. Its 700 islands, many of which lie in an area of the Caribbean called “hurricane alley,” get clobbered by storms and suffer flooding regularly. The latest onslaught, Hurricane Dorian, killed scores of Bahamians last September with category 5 winds that snapped utility poles like twigs and damaged just about everything in the city of Hope Town, except its iconic candy-striped lighthouse. Scientists say once-rare category 5 storms are on the rise due to climate change. But the Bahamas is fighting back. Its prime minister has embraced solar power not just as a necessity, but to show the rest of the world how to confront climate change. Bill Whitaker reports from the Bahamas on the next edition of 60 MINUTES, Sunday, March 1 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis addressed climate change forcefully after Hurricane Irma, another category 5 storm, struck part of his country in 2017. Tiny Ragged Island in the Southern Bahamas was so decimated that it would be incredibly hard to rebuild. But did they really want to restore power using a fossil-fueled generating system? Change could start here, says Minnis. “After Ragged Island was devastated, I made a statement. ‘Let us show the world how it can be done. We may be small, but we can set an example,’” he tells Whitaker. He set out to make Ragged Island green by building arrays of solar panels and beginning to break the county’s decades-long dependence on fossil fuels to generate electricity.
The solar panel arrays are built low to the ground and sturdy enough to withstand 180 mile-per-hour winds, and include strong batteries that can store the energy for cloudy days. “We can expand it,” says Minnis, who hopes within a decade to produce 30 percent of his entire country’s energy through renewable sources like these solar “micro-grids.” It will be costly; power lines would also have to be buried to eliminate vulnerable poles.
The new system is not only hurricane-resistant but reduces the country’s carbon footprint, further lessening its already minuscule contribution to climate change. Smaller countries like his have been pointing their fingers at the world’s big powers. “First-world nations make the greatest contribution to climate change,” says Minnis. “They are the ones responsible for the changes that we see, the increase in velocity and ferocity of the hurricanes…that we see today, but we’re the innocent victim.”
Minnis and other Caribbean leaders have proposed an insurance account funded by those “first-world” powers that would pay for rebuilding after future storms.