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Confronting Climate Change: Implications for Small Island States. Part One

Education 27 May, 2021 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

The poet Gerard Hopkins, in his famous poem ‘God’s Grandeur’ declares that ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God,’ but then later in the verse he asks the question, ‘Why do men now reck his rod?’

There is scientific consensus that the earth is warming, with an increase of between 1.9 and 3 degrees Celsius estimated by the end of the twenty-first century, relative to temperatures recorded between 1986 and 2005. The planet churns out fifty-one tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in every typical year. In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that, ‘The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea levels have risen, and the concentration of greenhouse gases have increased.’ (IPPC, 2014). One year later, this same group again affirmed that the human influence on climate change is unmistakable. Mitzner, an expert on the subject, explains that:

‘Human activities are changing the composition and behavior of the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate as pollutants from a wide range of human activities such as energy use, industrial production, agriculture, forestry, and land-use are changing the global atmosphere concentration of certain heat-trapping gases such as carbon-dioxide, nitrous oxide and synthetic compounds which absorb energy before remitting it all directions. This remitted radiation, carries most of the heat upward, out of the atmosphere, but remits some downwards, warming air, land and water below.’ (Mizner, 1992, p 8).

Climate change is the scientific recognition that human industrial activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, clearing and burning of and the making of cement are taking place at such a scale that they are changing the world’s climate (Rich 2018). As a consequence, there are more extreme weather, droughts, flood, melting ice, rising oceans and storm strengthening. Farmers and residents of low-lying areas are also experiencing the effects of extreme weather in the developed world. The cumulative effect, experts warn, will be the accelerated human migrations and food and resource shortage.

The climate crisis threatens to reduce habitability of the planet especially when one notes that eighty percent of the world’s population lives near a coastline and that some states are already vulnerable. There will be greater alterations to the timing, duration and distribution of rain and snowball. Specific to the Caribbean ‘The summary of the IPCC's projections for the Caribbean are:

• 2-3 degree centigrade rise in temperatures by 2080

• Decreased rainfall, June – August

• Sea level rise 0.2-0.5 metres by 2090

• Possibly increased frequency and probably increased intensity of hurricanes’ (Witter, 2007).

Writing on the imminent dangers of climate change, Harari (2016) in his Homo Deus- A Brief History of Tomorrow, says that given our technological sophistication, modern humans have a good chance of overcoming the problem of resource scarcity and that the ‘real nemesis of the modern economy is ecological collapse.’ As he puts it, ‘Both scientific progress and economic growth take place within a brittle biosphere, and as they gather steam, so the shock waves destabilize the ecology’ p. 73. Countries such as China and India want to have their billions live-like ‘middle-class Americans’ and ‘see no reason why they should put their dreams on hold when the Americans are unwilling to give up their SUV’s and shopping malls.’ Even with protocols to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet continues to warm, and no one knows if science will simultaneously ‘save the economy from freezing and the ecology from boiling.’ (Harari, 2016, p. 215).

The literature on climate change has many different and varying views. For some, it is ‘the most far-reaching manifestation of white privilege and class privilege’ (Moe-Lobeda, 2021), while for others it continues the historical trajectory of a demarcation between developed and developing countries. For others like Kleine (2015), we must abandon the free-market ideology, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems. Some look to technological innovations, others to institutional changes. For others, it is a time for a call for individual, community, and global repentance within a theological framework, as a prelude for the success of other complementary approaches.

We continue the discussion in the next article on this subject.

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