“If you want to rebel, rebel from inside the system. That’s much more powerful than rebelling outside the system.” ― Marie Lu
It has been said time and again that climate change is not just about the melting polar caps. Although it is a central aspect of the climate change crisis, the matter goes far deeper. In fact, much like an iceberg, there is a whole lot more to the story than what you and I see on the surface.
Let us turn our attention to the young people of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
I sought insight from six young leaders from LAC, learning how their country is most affected by climate change and the climate action they support. They show that perhaps the future of the region is in great hands.
Alexandra Pierre, 25, is the National Coordinator of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) in Haiti. She is an Engineer Architect with a Master’s in Education for Sustainable Development and has won multiple awards due to her dedication to the environment sector.
Alexandra explained that in Haiti, climate change has caused major imbalances in the seasons. The country faces longer season of dryness, shorter but more intense rainy seasons, fervid erosion, and premature parching of rivers. The direct effect of this situation is that Haiti is unable to achieve food security. “This touches mostly on the vulnerable groups in Haiti, such as women, children, and farmers. The rising heat has led to the spread of skin diseases and it is also placing strain on Haiti’s ability to deal with sanitation issues, while also facilitating the transmission of waterborne diseases (diarrhea, cholera),” Alexandra pointed out.
This supports The Lancet’s report which makes the case that climate change action is the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century. One critical solution according to Alexandra is to engage in greater environmental education in Haiti. “My country needs all sectors to be aware of the impact of their actions on the environment and binding legislation is needed to force all the sectors to take the required adaptation or mitigation actions.”
Nickson Barry, 24, is a strong believer in volunteerism, a youth development worker by profession, the President of CYEN in Grenada, and the Deputy Regional Chair of CYEN Regional..
Nickson informed me that a major impact of climate change on Grenada has been the increased landslides and soil erosion due to heavy but short rain falls. This pattern of shorter but more intense rainfall raises concerns about both road safety and food security. Furthermore, according to Nickson, “climate change has brought Grenada’s water supply to its knees, worsening each year. Rising sea level is directly threatening our fishing industry, beaches, business, and the lives of those living along the coast.”
Grenada is the spice island of the Caribbean and it depends greatly on agriculture as a source of income, therefore, the land needs to be protected from climate change impacts. Nickson suggests that Grenada implement rigorous environmental regulations which are actively enforced. Inspiringly, Nickson believes that “we are our environment and we must preserve it for generations to come.”
María José Vásquez, 26, is Co-founder and Leader of Management of Costa Rica Limpia (CRL), the first citizen observatory in climate and energy in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is known around the world as a country which holds the environment in high regard. Regardless, this lush Central American paradise has not been spared. “Climate change affects the environment, which is directly related to poverty, the economy, and development in Costa Rica.” The link is inescapable. “Central America is among the most vulnerable areas in the world to climate change and the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states that reductions in average rainfall and increases in extreme precipitation accompanied by substantial increases in droughts is expected to occur due to climate change.”
Costa Rica is a megadiverse country. With a landmass encompassing only 0.03 percent of the Earth’s surface, it contains five percent of the earth’s biodiversity – a density that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. Therefore, climate change action is crucial if this country is to maintain its high standard of ecotourism and sustainable development. María supports a policy for full decarbonisation of the economy, clean transport, and phasing out fossil fuels. She states that “history will be the one that judges us, but what is written depends on our actions today.”
Argentina is a large nation on the South American continent and there are various climates present in this country. However, Patricio assured me that the all the different regions of Argentina are being affected by climate change; the major results being flooding and drought. Economists and climate scientists proclaim that failure to reduce global carbon emissions quickly will incur huge costs to the global economy.
Indeed, the most expensive course of action with regard to climate change is to choose to do nothing.
This is a serious case for Argentina, as Patricio stated that “it is expected that this year the increasing intensity of “El Niño” will greatly affect Argentina’s economy, agriculture, and livestock.”
How can we mend such a prevalent problem? Patricio believes that Argentina needs to implement public policy that will make effective changes in the energy sector as it produces 43 percent of the national greenhouse gas emissions. “We need to promote the implementation of renewable energy across the country, enhance industrial processes to match eco-friendly standards, and change our consumption patterns.”
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Karysse Clifton, 24, is an active member of CYEN in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). She is hold a BSc. in Environmental and Natural Resource Management, currently works in the field of Health, Safety and the Environment and is pursuing an MSc. in Safety, Health and the Environment.
Water shortages plague T&T as a result of an increasing temperature and this compromises the duration of the dry season. As is the case for both Haiti and Grenada, a shorter dry season is coupled with intense tropical storms, which have caused catastrophic loss and damage.
In 2010 Trinidad and Tobago suffered a severe drought for several months leading into 2011. Karysse recalled that time, “lawns were destroyed and trees were wilting away. Water supply was so unstable that organisations installed hand sanitizer dispensers as a precaution, in the absence of water.” Droughts, such as these, combined with increasing temperatures have triggered bushfires, crop failure and flooding during periods when heavy rainfall erupt. As has been emphasised before, “climate change not only affects our environment, it threatens our livelihood.”
Taking a unique stance, Karysse is in support of communities being empowered to own climate change initiatives.
“I believe that a sustainable housing policy should be implemented in Trinidad and Tobago. This policy would improve the type of material used to build houses and the source of energy (electricity). The use of environmentally friendly material as well as the use of solar energy would take the pressure off of environment. A sustainable housing policy would not only present citizens with the opportunity to purchase their own sustainable home but would also offer subsidies on the purchase of sustainable material.”
Xiomara Acevdeo, 24, is an International Relations professional with an emphasis on International Law. Xiomara is the founder of a youth-led organisation called Barranquilla+20, which works to educate and empower children and youth for green, sustainable, and resilient cities and communities.
After speaking with this young Colombian woman, I learnt that much like Costa Rica, Colombia is a vulnerable country in that the consequences generated by the climate change are affecting its status as amegadiverse country. “With multiple variations of ecosystems, the local communities need to be made more aware of climate change and be properly equipped to be resilient against the effects of climate change on the environment upon which they are highly dependent.”
Xiomara believes that Colombia needs to be include climate change as a priority area from a political standpoint and at a national level. It threatens biodiversity, which impedes upon growth of the economy. Xiomara stands behind climate resilience for her country and the implementation of serious adaptation measures.
As a result of anthropogenic effects on our planet, people in countries all over the world are facing extreme temperatures which threaten their very survival; food insecurity due to the inability of crops and livestock to withstand the changes; spread of diseases to areas where they had not before existed; and the proliferation of the climate refugee scenario. This web of unfortunate events is being manifested in people’s lives and the list does not even scratch the surface.
That being said, young people today are very aware of this anthropogenic dilemma.
We are living through the consequences of ecocide committed by those who came before and despite the fact that millennials are often clumped together beneath the large umbrella labelled “uninvolved, touch-screen obsessed zombies,” there has been the evolution of a certain type of millennial. My generation also consists of young people who are not just aware of the danger our planet is in, but who have dedicated their career and channeled their passions into the betterment of the environment in which we live.
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is generating such ambitious world changers.
The Caribbean has contributed critical academic research on climate change and Latin America stands as one of the most progressive regions at the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) climate negotiations in the lead up to COP 21. With Bolivia leading the challenge against the big emitters, lobbying for more stringent targets and climate financing which matches the damage being done; and Costa Rica operating on 100 percent zero-carbon energy for 75 days straight in 2015 while also having an impressive goal of carbon neutrality by 2021, the countries of LAC appear to be a nurturing ground for the new breed of young people.
This article was originally posted on Caribbean News Service