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‘Will they mourn us on the front line?’ Mia Mottley: Speaking truth to the World? Part Two

Education 27 Jul, 2023 Follow News

Dr Livingston Smith


‘Will they mourn us on the front line?’

 Mia Mottley: Speaking truth to the World? Part Two

By Dr Livingston Smith, PhD, Professor, Department of the Social Sciences, University College of the Cayman Islands

'For those who have eyes to see, for those who have ears to listen, and for those who have a heart to feel: 1.5 °C is what we need to survive, 2 °C, yes, Secretary General, is a death sentence for the people of Antigua and Barbuda, for the people of the Maldives, for the people of Dominica and Fiji, for the people of Kenya and Mozambique, and yes, for the people of Samoa and Barbados. We do not want that dreaded death sentence. And we have come here to say: “Try harder.” Try harder because our people, the climate army, the world, the planet, need our actions now - not next year, not in the next decade.’ Mia Mottley, PM of Barbados, Speech at the Opening of the World Leaders Summit of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), November 1, 2021

'The earth has recorded what are possibly its hottest days in its modern history. The planet churns out fifty-one tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in every typical year and as human influence on climate change is unmistakable, for small island states in the Caribbean, climate change threatens our long-term survival on the planet. It is as serious as that and the urgency of this fact has been strongly expressed by Mia Mottley, PM of Barbados. As temperatures rise globally, those who deny the obvious need to face reality.

Mottley would have found additional salvo in a just released study published in the journal Nature Communications that was carried by the New York Times. Essentially, scientists have new evidence that human activity leading to the emission of gases that trap heat are causing changes in the environment which are most difficult to reverse. The thawing of the Artic permafrost, the loss of the Amazon rainforest, the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic sheets are examples of these says this study by researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute. Now to be added, is the possibility that the system of ocean currents that regulates the climate of larger parts of the planer could collapse sooner than expected. This is serious stuff.

There are many views about climate change.  For some, it is the most far-reaching manifestation of white privilege and class privilege.  For others, it continues the historical trajectory of a demarcation between developed and developing countries. For others like activist and author Naomi Kleine, we must abandon the free-market ideology, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems as serious and far-reaching climate solutions will not come from capitalism. For others, it is a time for individual, community, and global repentance within a theological framework, as a prelude for success. Others like Bill Gates, take view that this is a moment that cries out for human ingenuity in the creation of relevant technologies.

In his recent well-received book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, Gates looks at methods to get zero emissions of man-made greenhouse gases and the removal of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane from the atmosphere within thirty years. He has several chapters on the expansion of existing clean technologies such as wind and solar energy, electric vehicles, and heat bumps. He also proposed a new generation of nuclear weapons, plant-based meat and resilient crops and livestock.

Technological innovations are certainly important strategies to confront climate change. Industrial countries account for nearly 75% of the fossil fuel derived emissions of carbon dioxide and almost 60% of the total carbon dioxide emissions. This is changing and will continue to do so as developing countries develop.

Another major source of energy related to greenhouse emissions is transportation.  Substantial opportunities exist for reducing the energy intensity of cars, trucks, busses, and airplanes. In the electricity sector lighting loads are growing as developing countries bring electricity to its citizens. The supply of luxury appliances will see increases in greenhouse emissions from electricity production.

New technologies are being developed to include more efficient lighting and better electric motor drivers on the end use side and solar wind, biomass, fuel cells and advanced combustion systems on the electricity supply side of the equation. These are clearly important as an approach to confronting the problem. The sad truth is, however, that so far, these are making a difference as yet. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase.

Whatever the perspective, the situation is dire. And this brings us back to the summary of the urgency given by the Barbadian Prime Minister. The increasing incidents and scale of droughts, floods, hurricanes, the endangerment of our underwater resources, are troublesome for the viable survival of future generations. This is particularly so for the most vulnerable countries such as small island developing states even though they have contributed little to the greenhouse gas emissions. She tells of how as temperatures and the sea levels cause droughts and limit access to potable water for months, ‘at a time where for example in the Caribbean a country’s entire GDP can be wiped out in a night or in the case of Dominica, 227 percent of its GDP with Hurricane Maria and Irma.’

The issue is both macro and micro. The indebtedness of most developing countries, in Africa, Latin America and those in the Caribbean included, does not help when they will need to spend on tackling the problem. As Mottley puts it, ‘we will not solve it by techno optimism, and some loose change being thrown at people the world needs to spend about three trillion dollars a year on investments to transition to renewable and regenerative energy, transport, and agriculture, and the more we talk about it, and the less we do it, the more critical the problem becomes.’

She makes the case on the world stage in a very powerful way. Telling the story to the most powerful actors who are at the root of the cause of global warming is one thing- a necessary thing. Getting more ‘resolve’ ‘ambition’ and ‘humanity’ is crucial.  But as Caribbean people ‘on the front line’ and other developing countries, there are urgent issues to address in relation to climate change that we must do ourselves and as urgently as Mottley reminds the world. We pick up on these in the next article.

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