R. Rose
January 3, 2014
If climate could change, why not we?

If ever, not a “wake-up” call, but a “get-up-and-get active” one were needed, the Christmas storms of last week provided us with that opportunity. For if, as has become obvious to all but those figuratively blind, deaf, dumb and woefully unaware, the dreaded effects of climate change are impacting us in a most dramatic fashion, if climate could change, then what are we waiting for?{{more}}

While impact assessments and the cost of the damage are still ongoing, the events of that destructive 24-hour period have left their mark, not only on the physical environment, but more so on the minds of our people. Never have we experienced a Christmas like that, not in Dominica, not in St Lucia, and certainly not, in St Vincent and the Grenadines. It took the “merry” out of Christmas and in our case, added a most unwelcome tenth morning to our traditional “Nine Mornings” festivities.

For those of us who have been trying to observe climatic changes over the past few years, it cannot have been a total surprise that such a disaster would befall us, long after the supposed end of the hurricane season should have been a faded memory. This was, for us in the Eastern Caribbean, one of the quietest periods for years, in spite of early predictions of another busy season. But it has been becoming more and more obvious as the years roll by, that significant changes in climatic patterns are occurring – rain in dry season, drought in traditional wetter months; just ask the farming community.

Yet, we have been reluctant, almost unwilling, to not only take note, but to respond appropriately. That is sadly the case at all levels, ranging from the international level down to the level of personal responsibility. When we do “talk the talk”, we do not follow up and “walk the walk”. In the face of scientific fact and empirical evidence, we still allow others to carry us along all sorts of trips in superstition, ending up with all sorts of ridiculous excuses and fatalistic prescriptions.

It is time, more than time for a reality check. Perhaps the truth is too much for many of us to swallow, but digest it we must. The Christmas storm had as much to do with our sins as the tsunami in the Indian Ocean some years ago, (a Christmas one too), had to do with the sins in Sri Lanka or Thailand. As religious people, we would naturally reflect on our own conduct and pray for changes, but we must also DO THE RIGHT THINGS!

Central to that is our relationship with the environment, for which we have only temporary stewardship. Human activity is having fatal effects on our environment and leading to what is now undeniably recognized as the effects of climate change. The temperature on earth and in the oceans has continued to increase with consequential negative effects – rising water levels already affecting low level coastal zones, more intense rain, severe fluctuations in weather etc.

While it is true that at a global level, we are not as guilty as the larger developed countries, we must share our own part of the responsibilities. The situation has become so critical that we must, as our Prime Minister reminds us, have to approach life, and certainly our approach to the environment, very differently. We simply cannot ignore the consequences of deforestation, cannot continue with the wanton use and abuse of pesticides; we can no longer tolerate irresponsible disposal of garbage – much of the flooding is caused when streams are blocked with debris deposited by humans; we must no longer facilitate construction that is potentially harmful to the environment; the list of DO s and DON’Ts is inexhaustible.

We must also recognize that all so-called ‘natural disasters’, (some are not as ‘natural’ as we make them out to be), end up hurting the poor and the vulnerable much more than any other groups. It is always the poor with no alternative shelter, source of income or recourse to resources, who suffer most. That is an inescapable fact, as is the conclusion that it is the state which ends up with the greatest burden for spearheading the recovery efforts.

Once again we are faced with a national tragedy which requires a genuine national response. Political parties will have their differences and we must respect their rights to differ, but it would be far more productive, if, in addition to each party having its own initiatives, they would join in a concerted national effort. What a message would have given to our divided people if in a tour to assess damages, both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader would be jointly spearheading it.

Climate is not only changing, but it HAS CHANGED. We must do likewise.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.