Be Champions Like Brathwaite!

‘Champion, Champion, everybody knows West Indies are Champions!’ By now, everyone in the Caribbean region has witnessed the magnificent victory by the new ICC (International Cricket Council) T20 World Cup Cricket Tournament Champions, the West Indies in India last week. Of course we have also watched the brilliant Carlos Brathwaite of Barbados hit those sixes into the stands in the final nail-biting over of the match. Most of you have spontaneously burst into the well-known ‘Champion Dance’ once or twice after the win. Like Mr. Brathwaite and the triple champion teams, I am urging that we, the inhabitants of the Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS), hit fossil fuel use for six, out of our islands. We can become the champions of renewable energy use in the world.

But can we really do without fossil fuels? I mean, we use it every single day for almost everything, such as charging our many electronic devices, cooking, transportation and surprisingly, water use. Many might not know that the water sector is the largest user of fossil fuels on the islands. When you drink a glass of water do you know how much fuel you have just consumed? Electricity, generated by fossil fuels, is used to supply and distribute water to homes, schools and businesses daily.

Therefore, when you waste water, you are wasting the fossil fuel used to produce it, resulting in harm to the environment and by extension your personal health. We know gas and oil is not cheap, especially for those who have to commute to Bridgetown daily for work. As a SIDS, we are known to be highly dependent on fossil fuel imports in order to survive. We need to cut the metaphorical umbilical cord which attaches us to oil and break free from this tie. Petroleum has us wrapped around her little finger but we need to unwrap ourselves somehow. Fossil fuel use contributes to climate change, climate change in turn affects us with projected longer droughts and with longer droughts more energy may have to be used to find more water which we do not exactly have. This is why water conservation is critical.

We all have heard that Barbados is a water-scarce country and within the top ten in the world. This is why wise water use is important, especially during this time of drought. Saving water may save not only your life but the lives of your neighbours.

Whilst water-scarce countries do not have a lot of fresh water and going through a drought, we sure do have a lot of something else: sunlight or solar energy which can be harnessed for electricity. Do not get me wrong, solar power use has been a staple in Barbados for many years. We have even been lauded as leaders in solar power use in the world during the International Year of SIDS (2014) when the world celebrated small islands, especially during World Environment Day celebrations as the host country. We then need to up our game never the less and start the move away from our high dependence on petroleum.

But what can we do without fossil fuels you ask? I know what! We can survive at least a little bit longer on these little rocks in the sea. Let us be champions like our West Indies team and the exemplary Brathwaite, and break free from this fossil fuel choke-hold.

Is Paris our last hope for survival?

Traffic was terrible last Friday while the remnants of Tropical Storm Grace were passing through Barbados. As I was sitting for hours in the rain, I had more than enough time to think about how Dominica was decimated by a mere storm and also how the island’s development was set back 20 years, according to their Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerritt, in his address to the nation.

This is of course not the first time a storm or an even weaker system has destroyed parts of our islands. Storms and low pressure systems have been thrashing our behinds for a while now. I think back to Tropical Storm Tomas in 2010. It snuck up on Barbados in late October and wreaked a bit of havoc. It felled trees, destroyed houses, caused flooding and made roads impassable.

Furthermore, just 3 years later, an out-of-season trough affected a now recovering St. Lucia and St. Vincent on Christmas Eve. It shows that as soon as you get back on your feet, you can be knocked down again when you least expect it. I had only just left a workshop in St. Lucia a few days before the event. While on a field trip, I spoke to a farmer who said he had just recovered from Tomas and he showed me his bountiful harvest. When I contacted him after the trough, he said his field was once again wiped out and he needed to restart for the second time. This was his livelihood and I doubt it will be the last time disaster strikes.

While inching forward every 20 minutes or so I also thought about Loss and Damage and if it was on the table for the region. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are indeed most vulnerable to climate change effects. They are also susceptible to sea level rise especially since most of the inhabitants live in low-lying coastal areas. The administrative offices in Barbados are located just a few metres from the sea and our electricity comes mainly from a coastal plant. Let us not forget the droughts that we have had and in the words of Bob Marley, ‘You ain’t gonna miss your water until your well runs dry’. Lastly, the insanely unusually hot weeks we have been having. These effects not only affect the economy but our health and well-being.

I am elated though about the unity and swift action this region has displayed so far with aid swarming into Dominica daily. Countries are individually raising money, collecting food stuff and sending rescue personnel to help our neighbour out.

As a young climate change advocate, I have to applaud the work of youth organisations such as the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) which help to raise the awareness of the region’s young citizens about climate change impacts. Additionally, the Action/2015 global campaign which aims to mobilise regular citizens worldwide to address climate change, inequalities and poverty.

Conversely, commitments from larger and richer G8 countries to reduce their emissions and provide funds for adaptation and mitigation projects are necessary for our survival. It seems that climate change negotiations so far are going as slowly as this traffic. Will there be an agreement that satisfies the needs of the Caribbean SIDS? We can only hope.

In the meantime, I would suggest that community vulnerability studies be done for each country to map the most vulnerable areas to different disasters. In this way we can be better prepared for disasters like Erika.

 

Land Use and Climate Change on an Island: Chalk and Cheese?

What does land use have to do with climate change? Everything. They are not like ‘chalk and cheese’ like persons may think. How our 166 square miles are managed, directly determines our future on this beloved rock.

Aerial View of Barbados
Aerial View of Barbados (Source:Jessie R on Pinterest)

Land is definitely a key limiting factor to a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) and can definitely determine our resilience to potential climate change impacts. When land is limited, there are several competing uses for the same space such as industrial and manufacturing, educational, residential, agriculture, tourism, urban areas, solid waste disposal, and not to be forgotten, natural ecosystems such as forests, streams and mangroves. Therefore, sustainable land management is critical. When conducting research on the effects of changing land use patterns and climate change impacts on food security in Barbados, coincidentally enough, the first question some persons I pitched it to asked me was ‘what’s the link between climate change and land use?’

Brownes Beach Flooded
Flooded Beach in Barbados (Source: Richard Burke, Facebook)

According to a United States’ Environmental Protection Agency’s publication, land use planning plays a significant role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a changing climate. Additionally, it is critical in assisting communities to adapt to sea level rise, more intense weather conditions and other climate-related hazards. Land management has energy implications as well. The more developed or built-up areas are, the hotter it gets, and therefore, an increased need for air conditioning, resulting in higher electricity or fuel bills.

Correspondingly, as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported in a 2010 National Environmental Summary for Barbados, it was revealed that land management was inefficient in Barbados pertaining to climate change adaptation. It was further stated that land use has changed rapidly over the years from agriculture to a more built-up environment, which may have potentially devastating consequences such as flooding and land degradation. This would therefore increase our already vulnerable state.

From a 2015 report from the Barbados Chapter of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), preliminary results showed that 99% of 400 surveyed young Barbadians – aged 15-31 years – believed that sustainable land management is important for Barbados. However, 92% were of the opinion that the land was not being managed well at present. Also, climate change was ranked as one of the top threats to sustainable land management, only second to pollution. What will we do about this?

Thus, despite the fact that we like to blame the government for several shortcomings, we as ‘proud Barbadians’ have to do our part to help ourselves. What we do on the land will determine as a nation, how much water we conserve, how much oxygen we get, whose houses and businesses will be affected first by flooding from sea level rise, what our food and energy bills will be and overall how resilient we are to weather systems, earthquake and volcanic activity which the region is very prone to. Note that we are just weeks shy of the hurricane season and Tropical Storm Ana has graced the Atlantic with her presence. If we are not usually prepared for the regular season, how will we defend ourselves against an off-season trough like that which devastated our neighbouring isles in 2013?

Most importantly, education and change in attitudes of our citizens, especially young people, is highly recommended to create a culture of a better appreciation for land as a precious resource and further, to adapt to climate change impacts. We need to start with us.

As our National Environment Month approaches in June, I want persons to not only think about what actions they will take for climate change but to actually do positive actions so we can all survive.

What do you think about land management in your country?