Caribbean countries are already facing the effects of climate change.
According to a report published in 2014 by the Inter-American Development Bank, Trinidad and Tobago will undergo higher tropical storm frequency and the effects will worsen. In addition, we will encounter sea level rise and more frequent and intense droughts.
Indeed, in 2015, the region recorded its most severe drought in five years. With sporadic rainfall and the strongest El Niño on record gaining strength, we have seen the land parching before our eyes and felt the heat stinging our backs. Island countries are dangerously vulnerable to rising sea levels. Our lands are disappearing as waters encroach, forcing inhabitants out of their homes. Standing at ground zero, the effects of climate change are real and excessively high compared to our capacity to address them. For these reasons, adaptation to climate change is needed to reduce the vulnerability of developing countries to the existing effects of climate change.
One young, Trinidadian woman who strongly agrees with this is Petal Quamina. Speaking with Petal on one of those rare rainy days warmed my heart. From the get-go, her strong passion for changing the way people think about adaptation to climate change was evident.
“I believe exposure to climate adaptation techniques is important, but we need to reach our youth, our future. My overall goal is to be in a position to include young people in establishing and creating a society that can sustain itself in light of climate change, ” Petal informed me, brimming with ideas for taking climate action. Ideas which authorities need to listen to.
This Trini woman is not leaving her ideas on paper.
Returning from studying in the United States three years ago, Petal has started her own company locally – Advanced Incite. Adequately named, her business is geared toward building more sustainable communities through educating and empowering people with sustainable tools, methods, and solutions to deal with the impacts of climate change. She notes that we need to build an economy that provides for the members of society who are most susceptible to climate change effects; the grassroot citizens. We need an economy that fosters awareness of and encourages us toward sustainable living. Home-grown, community-based initiatives such as Advanced Incite can provide people with means to deal with the changes that are coming about due to damage already done and prepare for the future climate impacts.
Although adaptation usually involves large-scale alterations, Petal believes that we also need to place emphasis on the behavioural adaptations. For instance, we need to use less water and embrace sustainable lifestyles. She seeks to inform people that well planned, early adaptation techniques will not just save money but also preserve lives in the long run. Therefore, people need to be equipped with knowledge about efficient water management/usage, advanced disaster risk reduction/management, and rainwater harvesting.
Inspired by her love for nature, Petal believes that Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) can build its resilience through invigorating its eco-tourism sector and focusing on local agriculture. She has a great point as T&T is already reeling from the drastic fall in global oil prices, facing a recession as the world shifts away from the economy’s mainstay – fossil fuels. After being exposed to the environmental and agricultural fields in the US and in T&T, Petal admits that the perception of sustainable development is twisted here. There is a contrast which needs to be addressed. This poses a great challenge, as she states that “when people hear sustainable technologies most of the time they think it’s primitive but I would like to make it known that sustainable does not mean primitive. If we can create a society that is environmentally stable and sufficiently adapted to expected changes, then we will be contributing to a better quality of life for all.”
We need to modify our perception if we are to successfully adapt to climate change impacts.
2016 is set to be the hottest year ever recorded, according to a forecast issued by the UK Met Office. We will face even more extreme weather events and more diseases. Babies throughout South America are already at the mercy of the Zika outbreak. The vector thrives in warm temperatures and as the world heats up, their breeding grounds are expanding, putting more people at risk of contracting the disease.
However, we can not cry over spilt milk. If we dust that glass for fingerprints we will find that humankind is liable. We must face our reality.
This should provide incentive for public and private entities to invest in adaptation techniques and facilitate the integration of climate change adaptation into development planning. It needs to be at the forefronts of governments’ minds, especially on the heels of the COP 21 agreement. Petal believes government needs to be less complacent. She states that ideally, government should be the champion for innovation and adaptation. Only then, will the power be in the hands of the people to use their own ingenuity to help themselves and to improve their surroundings and communities.
Through Advanced Incite, Petal hopes to show that local industries based around eco-friendly practices will contribute to wealth while educating and instilling the importance of sustainable development and environmental preservation. Her business offers plans and products with conservation as the top priority where visitors can interact with the natural and cultural surroundings of the region gaining a love; a love that will make the slogan, “Keep Trinidad Beautiful,” more than just a slogan but a belief and understanding in the hearts and minds of the people.
If climate change is not adequately addressed Petal states, human rights remain at risk.
“We do need this planet to survive and if big corporations are keeping knowledge and methods from people while they use our resources without any care, just for their profit margin, then it becomes a human rights issue.”
Petal’s passion for the environment was clear as she expressed her desire to see young people bring the adaptation discourse to the fore by pooling their strengths and moving forward with innovation. As Advance Incite works on a community level to equip citizens with the tools to adapt their lives to climate change, Petal dreams of a day when her business will also affect change by increasing local food production and diversifying our nation’s wealth by working with farms and estates to develop and establish a strong Eco-Agrotourism sector through collaborations with youth outreach programmes as well as developing urban farms and community-supported agriculture programmes.
This is at the core of climate change adaptation; addressing the consequences while at the same time, maintaining the delicate balance with achieving sustainable and equitable development and fostering a better quality of life for our citizens.
Before concluding our chat and braving the admittedly random but entirely welcomed downpour, Petal left an inspiring message for young people who are interested in climate change action:
“Never give up. You will have to find strength in yourself. Believe in what you’re doing and keep love in your heart regardless of what you may have to face. Let the love guide you.”