It has been said that the way we treat our planet is one of the reasons why there are so many natural disasters — it is the Earth rebelling against mankind’s harsh treatment of its only home in the known universe.
If that is to be believed, then the recent announcement from the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presented by climate researcher Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has validity.
Emanuel stated that as a result of climate change, as many as 20 additional hurricanes and tropical storms will occur each year by the end of this century. Globally, as many as 90 systems occur each year, in the Pacific region they are known as typhoons and cyclones and in the Atlantic, they are known as tropical storms and hurricanes — the “same natural destructive forces with their names changed to meet their current addresses”.
In his study, Emanuel suggests that not only will there be more systems per year in the Atlantic and the Pacific, but that they will also be more powerful. The study suggests that these increases in intensity and frequency will produce more Category 3 and 4 storms each year.
While there are some scientists in the meteorological research community who have raised some questions regarding that research, no scientist in the same community has disagreed with the fact that global climate change has detrimentally affected weather patterns. These same groups are also on record as warning the world political community to be mindful of how each government approaches environmental planning and management.
The question here is: “Has any government heeded the warnings or advice from these scientists regarding climate change and the impact that it will continue to have on the environment as long as governments continue to ignore obvious signs of environmental mismanagement?”
These signs are very blatant; but for reasons known only to politicians and land developers, emphasis on repairing the damage caused by the effects of global climate change and the mismanagement of the earth’s natural resources only becomes a priority when the effect impacts the economic bottom line of the groups benefitting from infrastructural expansion.
Within the Caribbean region the effect of climate change can be easily seen in the continued shoreline erosion and coast flooding as the sea attempts to reclaim residential encroachment of its territory. Each year, more trees are cut down; either in the name of progress, or to meet the continuing increasing demand for consumer products.
Another issue which was raised as a result of the study was the fact that as more and more systems develop due to the activities of man on the environment, the technology to predict when they will occur and where they will show up is still many decades away from development.
It is this inability to predict this activity of increased systems which the scientific community warns, will have a disastrous impact on communities and residential areas who will continue to be vulnerable to the natural disasters.
Consider the following scenario as a possible prelude to the effects of what the study suggests: “October 2015, a system develops off the coast of Africa; very low and moving slowly. Its current position suggests that should it make landfall, it will arrive from the south east and move north west over the area.
“The preceding weekend, a 400 room all-inclusive resort opens. Two hundred and fifty of its 400 rooms are all ground floor suites located right on the water’s edge. The remaining rooms all have waterfront views and are in three-story blocks. On the other side of the city, another shopping centre is opened with full waterfront access and a multi-berth marina. Less than a mile away are schools, low income housing and medical facilities.
“The system continues to develop and its position continues to be south east of the island. Three days later, its development has reached Category III, but no change in direction. The models all suggest the centre will pass directly over the island. Emergency planners are now in scramble mode as they prepare to respond and review their evacuation scenarios; tourism officials huddle and discuss what will happen to their new resort and where to relocate their guests.”
“The system arrives as a Category IV, and its impact is tremendous. The seas wrecks havoc on the shoreline and tears the marina to pieces; a storm surge breaches the shoreline and invades all of the ground floor resort rooms. All of the second floor rooms of the resort are threatening to collapse, as the sea continues to pound the shoreline and floods through the resort into the parking lot.
“Neighbouring communities are just as devastated. Coastal highways and communities take the brunt of the sea’s impact, as rain and category IV winds rend the country, and push the country’s development and infrastructural achievement 25 years into the past.”
Is this a doomsday scenario? Am I once more preaching doom and destruction on the unsuspecting? No it is not. This description of the effects of Category III and IV hurricanes are very real, and the countries of Jamaica, Montserrat, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican republic, the Cayman islands, and the gulf coast states of the US will attest to the destructive power of a category III or IV hurricane.
Societies must use the opportunities given to recognise their response and recovery administrative strengths, and improve on them. They must identify their planning and preparedness weaknesses and redesign them to be better and more efficient.
That they will accept the warnings from the scientific and the emergency management community, and recognise natural hazards — floods, tropical storms and hurricanes — as true threats, which are becoming stronger and more frequent, and that the threat cannot be ignored.
That communities continue to plan for more intense systems and implore government to ignore the political mileage that may be received when a new shoreline development is opened, and concentrate on improving the preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation systems necessary for the protection of all.
I present the scenario in the hope that the residents of Barbados will take heed and learn, and capitalise on the near misses of recent systems. Chantal could have a lot worse. Chantal could have been a killer of men and a destroyer of cities. Be thankful that she was not. Take heed before it is too late.