Commentary: Climate change: How should the Caribbean adapt and mitigate against future impacts?

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The author of a number of published works, D. Markie Spring was born in St Vincent and the Grenadines and now resides in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. He has an MBA from the University of Leicester, England, and a BA from Saint Mary's University, Canada

By D Markie Spring

What else will it take to convince some people that climate change and global warming are real?

These phenomena are explicit. Too, they are two complex and emotionally charged subjects – two issues that cannot be ignored, given the current cultural and political climate.

Sadly, the president of the United States (POTUS) has withdrawn America’s membership from the Paris climate accord (Accord de Paris), often citing climate change as a ‘big hoax’ and a phenomenon invented by the Chinese to bolster China’s own economic agenda.

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make the U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” he once tweeted.

However, POTUS’ unprecedented move was met with widespread criticism from across Europe and a wide range of sectors inside the US.

Prior to America’s departure, the only two countries not signed onto the Paris Agreement were Nicaragua and Syria. Today, it is breaking news that Nicaragua is contemplating signing the accord, which would leave the US and Syria as the only two non-members.

Meanwhile, some interest groups have described POTUS’ anti-climate change rhetoric as ill-founded and his withdrawal as an impetuous decision. Besides, more groups have voiced their personal opinions about the president’s lack of commitment.

First, is the compelling notion that the president is possibly tied to or has an interest in the mega oil companies across the Middle East and Russia, which seemingly will devise a path to energy dominance on the back of fossil fuel development. Second, the president’s perceived hate for his predecessor has sparked a sweeping systematic annihilation of Obama-era climate initiative and legacy.

As the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases emission into the atmosphere per capita – carbon dioxide (Co2) emission from the consumption of energy per metric ton, where does America’s rash stance leave the Caribbean and the rest of the world and their fight to sustain the environment?

Considering this ‘conscious’ ambiguity, I ask further, where does the Caribbean start and how can the region realize this environmental initiative? I believe, however, that the “Caribbean toward Sustainable Development” (CTSD) will engender workable solutions given the support and other useful resources.

Extensive research has provided insightful information about the planet and its changing climatic patterns. According to NASA scientific recordings, Arctic ice minimum level has decreased 13.3 percent per decade. These records also indicate that Arctic summer sea ice shank to the lowest point in 2012. However, if one does not have access to scientific research, one can certainly sense that climate change has had observable effects on the environment. From the melting of glaciers, on seas, rivers and lakes to accelerated sea level rise and intense heat waves.

Equally, empirical evidence indicates that the region is marred by intense regular tropical cyclones constantly developing in the Atlantic Ocean. Never in the earth’s recorded history have we seen frequent and successive hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean, and at such great magnitudes.

Hurricanes are normally formed over relatively warm and huge bodies of water. It is important to note that ocean bodies take an enormous amount of energy from the sun to become warm. In fact, earth’s surface warms and loses its energy at a faster rate than ocean bodies. A hurricane acquires its energy from spiraling condensing water vapour over the ocean, and realizing the increasing humidity inside the region, a hurricane is inevitable.

Another important precursor to this phenomenon is that this evaporated water recondenses into clouds, which is another vital factor for trapping heat. Clouds act as insulators, which suggests that clouds release energy at an extremely slow pace. Therefore, these events have given rise to higher global temperatures.

In retrospect, Caribbean countries, not excepting those with sizeable rain forests and rivers with an abundance of water are still experiencing periodic months of droughts. The impact of droughts on soil is detrimental, as it depletes soil moisture and average regional precipitation, and exacerbates heat waves, which is also a direct detriment to human life. During this period, one could feel the increased temperature from the sun, which has posed great challenges to tropical plants and animals, fisheries and agriculture sectors, and the wider economy. Hence, the study of the earth’s history is a pertinent subject and not a topic of idle curiosity.

To reinforce this argument, NASA scientists are highly confident that global temperatures will continue to rise, largely as a direct result of greenhouse gases driven by human activities. NASA recordings of global climate change also indicate that carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere is at its highest levels and has increased by 406.69 parts per million. Coupled with this, global temperature has risen 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880 and 16 of the 17 warmest years are occurring since 2001.

On the flip side, the region has also seen changing patterns in average precipitation. At times there are increases in precipitation greater than the national averages. These average increases have caused rivers to overflow, which have flooded town and villages, decimated lives and precipitated extensive damages to infrastructure worth millions. More so, recent trends suggest that the region is bombarded by irregular, short and extremely heavy downpours and winds.

Likewise, sea level rise is also evident, which has given rise to high tides and land subsidence, triggering flooding, especially along coastal areas. Noticeably, the beaches on Caribbean islands are narrowing – a circumstance that scientists believe is a direct consequence of Arctic ice melting.

Another environmental impact of climate change involves dismantling of the regional ecosystems. Not only have these phenomena brought about changes in weather patterns, they have cemented grave political-economic challenges throughout the Caribbean. As a region that is highly dependent on agriculture and fisheries, its future economic environment is threatened.

Although regional heads of government have, over the years, identified the impact of climate change, to date, they have failed to incorporate climate change into their planning or made provision for funds in their national budgets to adequately address the needs of this sector.

Here, the CTSD has identified and understood the effects of climate change to the Caribbean region. Having recognized those footprints, the CTSD will propose workable and effective strategies to combat the effects of climate change in the region.

To realize this goal, and although water vapour is the most prominent greenhouse gas to date, the CTSD has already recognized the accelerated impact attributed by human activities. Hence, my recommendations would be to educate the people of the region on a number of environmental issues in an effort to militate against high volumes of loses – both human and infrastructure. Too, the CTSD must assist the governments of the region to coin and establish policies geared toward a sustainable Caribbean.

Recycling of bottles and plastics and proper garbage disposals are essential environmental practices, as any malpractice can disturb and impair marine lives; and hence, the fisheries industries and more so, overall economic development.

Citizens must be educated about the negative impact to help reduce emission of and stabilize the levels heat-trapping greenhouses gases into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels for electricity and deforestation can be avoided to reduce human interference with the climate system. Hence, allowing ecosystems to adapt naturally to their changing environments. Therefore, the region is encouraged to invest in clean energy initiatives to preserve the environment.

Furthermore, people are urged to adapt to life’s changing climates; thus, lowering exposure to the threatening effects of climate change. In the case of droughts, farmers especially, can adapt by installing water catchments and practice irrigation.

Reforestation, another environmental practice, needs to be implemented in many Caribbean countries to mitigate prolonged periods of droughts and reduce the likely occurrences of soil erosion and land degradation during heavy downpours. Similarly, trenches are important to facilitate runoff water.

Coupled with this, the CTSD has an obligation to cheer and prescribe to the region, particular responses to coastline protection and sea-level rise encroachment, utilizing sea fence innovations. However, shorelines already protected by salt marshes and mangroves have to be stabilized and restored where losses have occurred.

In fact, these intertidal habitats are impotant for wholesome fisheries, shorelines and communities, as these coastal wetlands are integral parts of the region’s cultures and economies. Salt marshes are crucial for refuge, food and nursery habitat – accommodating more than 75 percent of fisheries species.

However, the Caribbean has to move a step farther to adapt and mitigate climate change and its impact on the environment. It is time the region stopped relying solely on international climate change institutions like NASA for data and statistics and start observing and recording its own information.

With adequate resources, the CTSD will realize its climate change goals; henceforth, the impact of Co2 into the atmosphere can be reduced.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Spring has not attempted, or maybe he’s not equipped, to seriously answer the question he posed. Not a very useful article.

  2. As climate change leads to dramatic changes in the day to day weather patterns, with hurricanes and floods frequently headlining the news around the world, it makes you wonder why people are still turning a blind eye to this ginormous issue. Is it so difficult for people to take an active role in the preservation of our mother earth?
    https://goo.gl/6DrXiG

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