The shocking reality of the effects of climate change on British Columbia, Canada captured world-wide attention recently. With the temperature reaching an unprecedented high of 49.5° C/121°F on Tuesday, June 29, a wildfire erupted within minutes and destroyed 90 per cent of the small town of Lytton, creating havoc as its 250 residents fled.
At least two persons died as the speed of the fire trapped them in their home. The “heat dome” that has covered the province is responsible for the deaths of more than 700 people from heat-related issues in the space of just one week, a figure that is three times higher than what would have been expected in ‘normal’ times.
The reality is that the old global ‘normal’ is being replaced by conditions that are not conducive to healthy life and economic stability. Scientists insist that the shift from fossil fuels to clean, sustainable energy is the only viable way forward and every country must play its part in realising this goal.
The implications of the frightening rises in global temperatures cannot be ignored by small nations like ours, whose clout on the international stage may not be as great as that of more powerful nations that are contributing to climate disaster themselves.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that climate change can lead to 250,000 deaths annually between 2030 and 2050. Communicable and vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and chikungunya are on the rise as mosquitoes multiply more rapidly and are more active in higher temperatures.
Wet-bulb temperatures are also a major concern as the combination of extreme heat and high levels of humidity make it impossible for the body to cool itself as nature intended, as sweat does not evaporate under such conditions. The resultant heat strokes, heat rashes, heat cramps and dehydration pose serious health risks.
Oceans are warming fast, and climatologists warn that sea levels are set to rise by more than three metres by 2065.
Hurricanes that are more frequent and more powerful can devastate our region, destroying communities, causing traumatic displacement, and wrecking economies. Rainfall patterns are becoming variable and insufficient rainfall leading to severe water shortages is affecting some Caribbean territories.
When one adds this to the tragic impact of the Covid pandemic, the region must make its collective voice heard in every decision-making forum on climate sustainability.
On a personal and community scale, every individual must take responsibility for ensuring the safety of our country from self-imposed disasters. The recent heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Elsa brought about flooding in several communities with the inevitable waves of plastic bottles and Styrotex containers attesting to the despicable habit of dumping waste willy-nilly in public spaces.
In Palmiste Park, south Trinidad, for example, Styrotex cups and plates litter a section of the park even though the park is closed for public exercise. This downright disregard for good hygiene and for the right of others to enjoy a clean and pleasant environment is inexcusable.
It is an unpleasant truth that water courses, beaches and public parks and recreation areas are among the most abused of our country’s resources.
Our country can never boast of efforts to combat climate change or of any form of sustainable progress unless we conserve and preserve the environment in which we live. This is our sacred responsibility.
Education at all rungs of the society should help to right a wrong for which we have only ourselves to blame. At the inter-governmental level, we call upon our leaders to do their part to ensure that our right to quality of life is respected and upheld.