When the floods of 2005 shocked us all into a new reality we became aware of the effect of our individual and collective attitudes and actions towards the natural environment. Many citizens were left devastated. The catastrophe left in its wake hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, substantial damage to properties, loss of livestock and fear over the poor state of the nation’s drainage system. This fear of being inundated by floodwater remains real in many communities; it has not dissipated over time because to date nothing has been done to really improve the drainage system and to enhance its capacity to cope with new and unprecedented environmental changes that are affecting the way communities are organized and managed. Georgetown continues to be drained largely by gravity through a network of waterways and sluices that remain vulnerable to an apparent culture of littering and irregular cleaning owing to a severe lack of resources on the part of the Georgetown municipality.
However, that flood is only one incident that shows how vulnerable Guyana and the world, for that matter, have become to natural disasters. Recently, in many parts of the world, countries have been facing frequent storms and other negative natural events. It is clear that high temperatures, changing and unpredictable climate conditions, reduced green cover and coastal flooding have become a common thing.
Climate change affects the entire world, but most importantly it affects cities. Statistics will show that cities account for only 2% of Earth’s land, but account for 60-80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. These numbers are steadily increasing, considering that urban centres are not only growing in size, but also in greenhouse gas emissions. Cities are expanding at the maximum rate today and rapid urbanization is putting pressure on the environment. From fresh water sources to solid and liquid waste management, to energy management, all are suffering.
The financial effect of climate change can be just as destructive as the physical effects. Unexpected expenditure owing to floods, earthquakes and droughts can lead to major disruptions in business operations and city budgets. Climate change is a threat not only to the 3.5 billion people living in cities but also to the property and investments there.
It is true that cities are the hub for commerce, culture and innovation, and have facilitated the emergence of some of the best and brightest innovations humankind has ever seen.
At this time when the world is facing constant threats from the natural environment, sustainability is vital to our survival and very existence.
Notwithstanding the fact that more people are using bicycles, saving electricity and discovering new sources of power, much more needs to be done. To start with, we need to explore new and renewable sources of energy. Solar energy needs to be used to its maximum potential and be seen as a viable investment. Other sources like wind, sea waves and tides can be very useful. Bio-methane from waste matter can be used efficiently to power heating.
Many countries are finding new approaches to treat with new environmental conditions. For example, San Francisco and a few other eco-friendly cities follow a system of intelligent lighting that adjusts its intensity according to outside weather conditions. Another interesting system is followed in Curitiba, Brazil, where people exchange waste and trash for transit tokens or fresh produce.
This has been successful in minimizing not only litter but also poverty in the poorer sections of the society. Such ideas could be adapted for Georgetown.
Another thing, buildings, particularly in the city, could be made more efficient in heating and cooling both technically and naturally. Buildings can be constructed in a way that they allow more light to come in but not heat. Heat can also be reduced by having water bodies outside buildings using high-albedo surfaces that reflect heat to cool the surface.
Also, we have to find a way to recycle water and use it for cleaning and to water the plants. A rainwater harvesting system can be installed in buildings. The use of energy-saving lights should be maximized.
No matter how much cities cause pollution, they can also create a better quality of life and a lower carbon footprint through more efficient infrastructure and planning. We can all look forward to a better future if the authorities rethink their plan to develop Georgetown and put in place eco-friendly urban innovations and sustainable policies and actions.
Indeed, we all dream of a city of well-constructed energy efficient buildings and vast green spaces. We dream of clean and healthy surroundings and air in which everyone can breathe easily.
We dream of people using buses, carpools and bicycles as transport. We dream of equal opportunities for everyone without straining the environment and its resources. We dream of a city without poverty and full of happiness and prosperity.
However, this need not just remain a dream. It can become a reality if we all, the citizens of Georgetown, work, in unity towards it. So instead of the city posing a threat to the environment, it can actually become a huge asset in fighting global warming and climate change. It is all very simple, but only if we all work towards it.
Mayor and City Councillors
City of Georgetown