Averting disasters of our own making

Often when phenomena such as natural disasters occur many voice the view that the world will soon reach its end. Some even attribute the occurrences to Man’s wickedness.

Take the former minister Pat Robertson, who claimed that the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake was retribution for Haiti having made a deal with the devil to defeat France in the Haitian Revolution. Never mind that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was the greatest evil committed against any one group of people and the Haitians had the right to do whatever was necessary to free themselves. But such are the opinions of people who dismiss the culture and spiritual practices of others, who label it demonic and who would never hold offenders, such as France, culpable for their crimes, and choosing instead to unashamedly bash those who were the victims.

We Guyanese are fortunate that we do not experience major natural disasters that leave devastation that last for years. However, like the rest of the world, we witnessed the eclipse this week. Though many were excited to witness it, there were also the skeptics and fear-mongers—the people who believe that such occurrences are warnings that mankind must make atonement for their wrongs because the inevitable end is just around the corner. I have always wondered why people who believe that this earth’s time is so short invest in educating themselves and building homes and making plans for the future and having children, but that is another discussion so I will not digress. There were also a few who doubted the eclipse. Never mind many almost went blind when they looked directly into the sun and others were able to witness the wonder of the eclipse by looking through special glasses. We all could fall prey to conspiracy theories but often people would believe the most ridiculous notions with no evidence to back them up, like the belief by some that the earth is flat despite the scientific evidence that points to it being spherical. These experiences have made me wonder about people’s thoughts and education when it comes to climate change and global warming.

Most of the people I have talked with believe climate change and global warming are real and that we are in fact already experiencing some of the effects.

“The sun never used to be so hot.”

“The rain patterns have changed.”

We all can attest to the above statements. The heat in recent times is almost unbearable and often we must seek the help of air-conditioned units or electric fans to tolerate it. This year, I thought it would never stop raining as May-June came to an end and the showers were still lingering.

But could the average man explain what global warming and climate change entail?

Global warming is responsible for the increase in temperature in the lower atmosphere, while climate change occurs as a result of long term changes to climatic events, such as rainfall patterns, evaporation and cloud formation.

But how are we in danger as a country?

According to Guyana’s Initial National Communica-tion report (2002), Guyana is in danger because of the rising sea level and climate unpredictability. Over the last century, temperatures rose by 1 degree Celsius and are predicted to increase by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. There is a chance that the increase in temperature could lead to changes in the regional wind system, which would influence global rainfall and lead to a rearrangement and frequency of floods and droughts. Recently, the Rupununi experienced a drought starting in 2015 and this year it experienced massive flooding.

Research also shows that within the last 50 years, the sea level rose to about 0.5 metres and is expected to rise another 0.4 metres by the end of the 21st century. This, of course, is a threat to life in Guyana, since approximately 90% of the population live on the coastland and the sea water would affect agriculture. There is also disease risk if we were to experience increased flooding. In 2005, the floods caused devastation. A few lost their lives by drowning and others died due to complications from Leptospirosis.

So, what are we to do as Guyanese? While many of us will most likely be dead by the time many of the major predicted changes occur, what will happen to our future generations? Do those often with a flair for the dramatic have a point when they preach that this earth will be destroyed and mankind will become extinct? And how have we as human beings contributed to the changes?

In 2007, human activity was identified as a primary cause of global warming beginning in 1950. This came out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and represented the work of 2500 scientists from more than 130 countries.

The industrial revolution in western countries caused an increase in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. When released into the atmosphere, greenhouse gases let sunlight into the atmosphere and the earth’s surface is warmed and reradiated back into the atmosphere as heat. Some of the heat is absorbed by greenhouse gases and trapped in the earth’s lower atmosphere. Problems occur when too much heat is trapped. This is called the ‘Advanced Greenhouse Effect.’

But is there anything we can do? Guyana has invested in approaches such as the Low Carbon Development Strategy, which had acknowledged deforestation as one of the major contributors to global warming. Globally, over 20% of the greenhouse gases occur because of deforestation. In Guyana, over 80% of our land area is covered in forest and we have been working to protect and maintain our forests in an effort to reduce global carbon emissions. Besides the Low Carbon Development Strategy, there are also plans to strengthen our sea defences, improve drainage capacity, and strengthen our disaster preparedness and capacity building in research and technology.

As individuals, we can strive to use more energy saving bulbs and turn off appliances when not in use; we can aim to use renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, keep cars properly maintained as properly maintained vehicles burn less fuel, plant more trees and reuse and recycle.

The question is: how many people care enough to implement these changes in their lives? Are we willing to make sacrifices for the wellbeing of the planet and possibly the survival of the future generations? What will it mean for us if the situation continues to get worse? One can only hope that there will be a collective awakening and the efforts to reverse the damage already done will be successful.

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