Staying Afloat: An Activist’s Quest to Save The Bahamas

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O’niel Leadon aims to use the power of Black and Indigenous voices

A favored destination for sun-seekers around the globe, The Bahamas is a picture-perfect nation, made up of over 700 islands and more than 200 cays surrounded by pristine beaches and turquoise tides.

The idyllic landscape has made it into hundreds of postcards and tourism pamphlets, but if we don’t take climate change seriously, that image might change very soon. Unless we protect the planet’s resources and stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the country may well be fully underwater in just a few years. 

It might sound far-fetched and dramatic to those who don’t live there, but local writer and activist O’niel Leadon knows it’s more real than not, yet he’s hopeful that his generation can change the narrative.

“We have so much more to offer than sad stories,” he said. “We have ideas for sustainable solutions. We have plans to transform our communities and countries. The environmental and climate movements need to become more intersectional and ‘pass the mic’ to those facing the effects of climate change in real-time. I believe the biggest opportunity to reverse climate change lies in the amplification of Black and Indigenous voices.”

He’s right. it’s usually small island nations and minorities that get hit first and harder by the environmental impact the planet is suffering — yet we rarely hear their point of view. Those attracting the most mediatic attention tend to be standing under the limelight of privilege, sharing facts and figures that are easy to understand but difficult to grasp for those who haven’t experienced it first-hand. We talk about climate change as a thing that will happen instead of something that’s already happening. 

In places like the Bahamas, people are forced to pay attention and react. “I’m relatively new to climate activism,” said O’niel, emphasizing the fact that what’s happening around the world should be taken seriously by everyone and not just those at the forefront of environmentalism. “In fact, I never considered myself to be an activist at all. The work I was doing and my greater interests in conservation have always felt like my duty.  Before the pandemic started, I worked in hospitality at a conservation-themed kids club, and because of that, I’m pretty skilled at breaking down complex issues into ideas that kids and the average person can understand. I’ve always had a love for nature and science, so my career aspirations haven’t been much of a surprise.”

This revelation has moved a whole generation that, just like O’niel, hasves grown up under the shadow of eco-anxiety, pushed to embrace a career in which the planet comes before personal interests. Even if he would like to spend more time exploring his creativity, O’niel has chosen to focus his energy on serious projects such as Building Bridges For Climate Action (BB4CA) which amplifies Latin American and Caribbean voices in the climate action movement.

 “I believe that youth mobilization is critically important because we are the ones who are not only living through the current climate crisis, but we will also have to endure future atrocities as the crisis worsens,” he added.. “Not to mention being a part of the most educated, yet lowest paid generation in history.”,” he adds.  

It might sound alarmist, but O’niel’s words should be a concern that shakes us all — from the young BIPOC islanders in the Caribbean to the white politicians who are in denial. Ultimately, climate change isn’t a matter of demographics — it’s about the survival of our species.

Eco-Warriors Around the World