IF good sense prevails in Paris this month, we can all be walking down the road to a cleaner planet in the future. The debate will undoubtedly be hotly contested as what’s currently at stake: should we be contributing to Earth getting warmer than it is?
In an article published on BBC.com this week, the grim picture facing us should we not face up to the challenge confronting us becomes clear. The article, “How hot can the Earth get?”, is written by Vivien Cumming, who cited that the UK has this year recorded its hottest November days ever. The subsequent revelation by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that this year is likely to be the hottest on record is not comforting, either.
“Global temperatures are now set to reach 1 degree Celsius above pre-Industrial levels,” Cumming writes. “That is halfway to the politically-agreed upper limit of 2 degrees Celsius, which was set by world leaders in 2009.”
Recent temperature levels in Saint Lucia seem to have given more people validation that the climate change phenomenon does exist. Sunny days have now become blistering spells while warm nights have morphed into heat chambers. Even circulating fans do very little to cool down the heat wave, unless increased electricity costs can be deemed any kind of assistance. But just how hot could our planet really get? Are we in for more than we bargained for?
According to Cumming’s article, Earth has experienced numerous temperature fluctuations in its 4.6 billion-year history, ranging from frozen snowball to blazing tropical heat. In fact, without the greenhouse effect, our planet would experience an average temperature of -18 degree Celsius. That’s some cold climes, enough to freeze WASCO’s water pipeline network and – God forbid – some of its customers.
Despite greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour, taking some flak for the damage humans are causing to the planet, they do serve their purpose. Yes, they trap radiation from the sun and act like a heat shield around our planet. But without them, we’d all be stuck with -18 degree Celsius conditions. No more days chilling out at the beach, no sun tans – and for those who really like having fun – no carnival jump-up! The problem with those greenhouse gases, however, is that we are letting out massive quantities of them, resulting in not a stabilization of our planet but, rather, overheating.
Scientists posit that by the year 2100, Earth will be at least 4 degrees Celsius warmer than it was prior to the Industrial Revolution, which ran from about 1760 to between 1820 and 1840 when the transition to new manufacturing processes took place. The heavy reliance on fossil fuels and wanton deforestation are some of the major activities via which humans have contributed to a growing problem that threatens our own existence. The pursuit of development and progress has now come back to burn us – literally.
As far as greenhouse gas emissions are concerned, we seem to be doing a dirty job of chasing after the almighty dollar. In fact, between 2000 and 2010, the rates of emissions more than quadrupled than the preceding decade. Ironically, while some countries have committed to reversing the trend, the problem continues as other countries complain that their economic bottom-lines are at risk. China and the United States are the top two polluters that often come up with the craftiest excuses for doing nothing to change their status quo.
That is why these Paris talks are so important. Whether or not we trust science and scientists, climate change is real and its effects can hurt us immensely as the prevalence and increased ferocity of natural disasters are proving to us daily. The Caribbean has seen its fair share of troughs, tropical storms and hurricanes over the years, enough to teach us invaluable lessons about our vulnerabilities as small island developing states (SIDS). Even our water supplies are running out due to the never-ending dry spells. Can you imagine a world without water?
While the Caribbean does very little to contribute to the climate change phenomenon affecting the globe, our voice is not unlike those countries in the Pacific and other regions faced with our predicament. But as a region that prides itself on its beauty and world-renowned hospitality, its tourism industry is also at stake. For many countries, tourism is their lifeblood. Ask any Dominican what Tropical Storm Erika has done to their nation’s landscape and workforce and you just might get never-ending lamentations.
It’s too early to tell whether the legally-binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to maintain average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius will be inked by the 150 world leaders now at COP21. However, positive signals are already coming from U.S. President, Barack Obama, who said he’s “optimistic” about a deal being reached, adding that “I think we’re going to solve it.” We’d better solve it.
If you asked me, real change only comes about when a little optimism is accompanied by massive amounts of positive pragmatism. We seriously need to make a collective effort to cool the planet before the increasingly unbearable heat eventually consumes us.