In the late-night hours of Monday, February 12th, the tiny Polynesian island nation of Tonga was engulfed by the monster Cyclone Gita. The category 4 storm was the worst to hit the country in 60 years, with wind speeds reaching 145 mph.
The cyclone wiped out power lines, caused extensive flooding, ripped off roofs on homes and office buildings, wiped out crops, and completely flattened the country’s parliament and a number of churches. Thousands of Tongans sought refuge in emergency centers, as the storm tore through Tonga and then headed toward Fiji.
Leaders of South Pacific nations have been trying to cooperate and share information as the frequency and severity of storms in the region continue to increase. Last August 14th, disaster management administrators from Tonga, the Solomon Islands, and other South Pacific nations met for a meeting of the Pacific Meteorological Council. At the opening session, the Honorable Samuel Manetoali, Solomon Islands Minister for Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology, declared:
“Given our limited capacity, isolation, weak economic base and frailty as Pacific Island countries and territories, we are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and that of climate variability.”
Manetoali points out one of biggest problems of climate change: small countries facing the consequences from bigger countries’ environmental damage. While countries experiencing the worst disasters are putting all their resources into battling climate change, the biggest offenders don’t see climate change as a priority.
For example, in the United States, Scott Pruitt, appointed last year by President Donald Trump as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Bureau, has repeatedly denied the reality of climate change. That is, until recently, when he began instead to question whether “global warming necessarily is a bad thing.”
Prior to his appointment to the EPA, Pruitt sued the agency 13 times in efforts to block its regulations on carbon emissions and other pollutants now seen as contributing significantly to climate change — and leading to the kinds of storms Tonga saw on Monday.