2015 is envious of 2014. So much so, that it is well on its way to surpassing it as the hottest year ever recorded.
It all boils down to industrialisation. We have moved away from human, animal, wind, and water power and are now virtually reliant on fossil fuels. We have constructed a consumer-driven, comfort-based lifestyle which may not remain comfortable much longer. Reliance on fossil fuels means that every pedal to the metal, every click of the power switch, and every air-conditioned room represents release of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. These gases coat the earth.
That coat is thickening.
According to The Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service (TTMS), Trinidad and Tobago is getting hotter fast. In fact, temperatures across the country have increased unwaveringly since 1946 at about 1 degree celsius every 30 years. Between 1981-2010, the annual mean temperature increased by 0.8 oC compared even to the 60’s. With an observed warming of 0.27 oC per decade at the station in Trinidad and 0.17 oC per decade in Tobago, consistent with the IPCC (2007) observed 0.2 oC per decade in the Caribbean region. The heat is just too real.
It might not sound like much, but that’s just because it’s the average. We need to be wary of the highs and lows. As you’re reading this, countries in the Middle East are facing scorching temperatures and Iran is boiling at an unbearable 165 degrees fahrenheit. Just this year, heatwaves have killed upwards of 2000 people in India and Pakistan.
Trinidadians proclaim that “God is a Trini,” because of the apparent sweet life that we live here. I assure you however, climate change is a global health crisis.
These catastrophes are crucial elements of the global climate disruption and they are having vile effects on human survival. Many diseases flourish in warmer climates. With only a minor increase in average temperatures, Chikungunya, nicknamed ChikV, was locally transmitted in that Americas for the first time in December 2013. The disease took little time to spread throughout the hemisphere, taking a great toll on the Caribbean. With warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns, the mosquito-borne-disease is able to thrive and spread at much faster rates. Zika Virus just joined the party. The Dominican Republic became the first Caribbean nation to confirm the existence of this virus. Both ZikV and ChikV were not previously present in the Caribbean, but were commonly found in Africa, Malaysia, and Micronesia. Places that, at least for now, are just a bit hotter than here.
With limited land space and limited finance to allocate to the health system, diseases spread quickly throughout the region; affecting economic stability, placing pressure on labour productivity, and adding to the financial strain of the citizens. In Jamaica, the ChikV outbreak brought the government to its knees, and was declared a “total state of national emergency”. According to Nalini Jagnarine, Chief Sustainability Director of BioCaribe, “from September 2014, Jamaica lost more than 13 million man hours from a Chikungunya epidemic.” The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) reported that as at May 2015 there were 374 confirmed/probable cases of ChikV in Trinidad and Tobago. The French Caribbean countries of Martinique and Guadeloupe suffered tremendously, recording 83 and 67 deaths respectively; Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic lost 15 and 6 lives each.
Given the current warming predictions, the Caribbean will face sudden, disastrous, and irreversible consequences as it relates to the spread of diseases. Particularly as we interact across borders. Climate change generates geographical shifts in the distribution diseases, posing significant health implications on a global scale.
We need to match the increasing virulence of diseases by prioritising climate change action in the Caribbean. Even a small temperature rise directly impacts our health. As the upward trend of global warming continues, 2015 is evidently crushing the competition. Some climate scientists are even suggesting that we are close to witnessing the beginning of the expected hike in global temperatures. Drastic climate action is needed in the face of a reality where fossil fuel dependence is setting fire to human health.
Time waits on no politician.
This article was originally posted on Caribbean News Service