It is three minutes to midnight and we are losing all chances of redeeming ourselves from the atrocities we have inflicted upon the Earth.
Stepping out of the house and onto the street is now akin to moving from the pot and into the fire. As the maxi zips along the Priority Bus Route, I notice something. During my 30-minute air conditioned commute from Tunapuna to Port-of-Spain, I count eleven persons in the same stance; arms crossed over their chest, visibly using the palms of their hands to protect their arms from the heat of the sun. This stood out because I too have found myself attempting this futile coping mechanism. If you listen carefully, you may hear your epidermis being scorched.
Progressively, each month is being recorded as the hottest month on record. Data released from Nasa confirmed that February 2016 was the most ‘unusually warm month’ ever measured globally. Global surface temperatures across land and ocean were 1.35 degrees Celsius above the February average — based on a 1951-1980 baseline. This crushed January 2016’s heat levels and not surprisingly, 2016 is already set to be the hottest year on record.
This is no coincidence, this is climate change.
Increasing global temperatures represent a critical milestone in the relationship humanity has with its planet. Global warming is acknowledged by scientists around the world as a reality caused primarily by human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels. According to scientists, the “climate dice,” which is the probability of abnormally cool or warm seasons, has become more unpredictable in the last 30 years, as a result of human activity and the burning of fossil fuels. Utilising fossil fuels as the major source of energy is contributing to thickening of the ozone layer and unprecedented warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Not only does this reduce the time we have to enjoy ice-cream; fossil fuels are taking lives all around the world.
Dr Amanda Staudt, National Wildlife Federation climate scientist says, “Global warming is bringing more frequent and severe heat waves, and the result will be serious for vulnerable populations.”
Global warming, exacerbated by dirty energy, disrupts life and threatens human health and survival. It increases the frequency of extreme heat events. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts with “high confidence” that for the 21st Century heat waves will last longer and increase in magnitude.
This catastrophic news is already a reality for citizens in climate vulnerable countries across the world. In 2015, extreme heatwaves of April took 2,330 lives in India and over 800 in Pakistan. In the first weeks of April 2016, over 111 people died due to sunstroke in the India cities of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The heat in the Caribbean is so intense that the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) in early 2016 put Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, northern Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, T&T, and northern Suriname on drought alert. In 2015, about one million Haitian families suffered from drought and it is forecasted that Haiti will continue to experience extremely dry conditions through to May 2016. If we fail to divest from fossil fuel dependence, mortality rates due to heat waves and the consequences of severe dryness will only increase. Furthermore, global warming worsens air quality and the risk of respiratory disease.
People are dying while the pockets of fossil fuel merchants grow heavier. It is time for the people to resist the persistence of dirty energy companies.
With three major strikes against its name, T&T needs to release itself from the noose that oil and gas companies have around its neck and break free from fossil fuels. As the largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in the Caribbean, with a “Carbon Intensive Economy,” releasing the second highest amount of CO2 per capita in world, we need to do better. These are not accolades to be proud of.
Although, our contribution to climate change when measured on a global scale is miniscule, we need to shift the focus of our economy if we want to remain relevant and ensure the health of our citizens. The world is transitioning and we need to move along with it. It is possible to consciously decouple the economy from fossil fuels and strengthen the economy in the long-run. For decades we have latched on to oil and gas but we need to believe in life after love.
Renewable energy can be that new love. It can be both the prevention and the cure. It will curtail GHG emissions that result in global warming and drastic weather patterns. It will improve health, create jobs, and promote energy independence. Also, with new research proving that renewable energy is cheaper than coal and gas power, there is more incentive to make the switch.
As I walk through Woodford Square, in the capital of T&T, I notice the way the pigeons do not just wash themselves in the fountain. With the former Parliament building as a backdrop, these winged creatures perform acrobatic backstrokes and belly flops in the saving grace that is water. The sun is beating down on me and I contemplate submerging myself in the fountain. Alas! My ice-cream has already melted.
This article was originally published in the Trinidad Guardian.