It never really caught my attention, the plumes of exhaust billowing from the mufflers of vehicles on a daily basis. That was until one particular morning a few days ago when my vehicle was shrouded in a cloud of black so thick that I contemplated turning my headlights on so I could see the vehicle ahead of me.
After the sputtering that ensued ceased, followed by the dabbing of tears from my eyes, I became more aware of the number of vehicles contributing to the greenhouse effect and consequent global warming. This is not a prominent thought in our minds on a daily basis as we are more concerned, as it were, with the more important things in life.
Our priorities are getting to work and school on time and doing a good job there; securing our financial future within the constraints which have necessarily been imposed upon us; finding time for relaxation and restoration; making sure to visit our healthcare professionals to ensure we are in good health… as much as is possible.
Although climate change is not on the tips of our tongues, certainly it currently affects each of us. Maybe you aren’t, but I am acutely aware of how hot it is outside. I thought I was seeing doubles when the temperature gauge on my dashboard read 40°C one afternoon when I got in. I made my way posthaste to a car accessories store and purchased a windshield visor which had to match with the interior of the vehicle!
All jokes aside, climate change is important to each of us. Barbados is one of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and although this group is among the least responsible, we are the most vulnerable to these dire consequences of climate change. Let us take a closer look.
Studies have shown that the temperature in the Pacific Ocean for example, has increased by 3°C. As a result, the plankton are dying, the coral reefs are dying and the sea levels are rising. Why should you and I be concerned? Plankton help to provide oxygen which we need to survive; many of our island states still depend on fishing for a significant proportion of revenue and the stores of sea creatures are steadily declining; sea-related tourism is also a major income earner for many SIDS.
This next point for me is most poignant. On a recent trip to Grenada, I discovered or rather rediscovered a very important geographical feature about my island. Whilst there, I remarked to a friend that the only direction we seemed to be travelling was upwards, and suddenly it clicked that my country is flat. Flat as a bake. We boast an ‘impressive’ Mount Hillaby in all its glory at 1115 feet or 343 metres above sea level. That is a hill in most other mountainous regions and as such, we can be wiped out of existence with increasing rises in sea level. At present, such a thought seems to be more akin to a scene from a movie but this could be a harsh reality if changes are not made sooner rather than later.
In 1994, I vaguely remember the buzz about the Global Conference on Sustainable Development of SIDS. At that time it was stated that other countries must urgently take notice of the vulnerability of smaller nations to climate change, and to put measures in place to mitigate the adverse outcomes. If nearly 25 years ago it was urgent, I am not sure what word should be used today. Suffice to say that we need to find something ‘quick, fast and in a hurry’.
I am well aware that the implementation of policies affecting several countries in diverse geographical locations cannot be hurried. The foregoing statement spoke more to a sense of importance and the need to see change happen.
When we hear about climate change and those championing that cause, the image conjured in our minds is usually a group of persons bearing placards and chanting a few lines, which seem to fall on deaf ears. However, the true champions of this fight are the residents in the SIDS. Each of us is responsible for putting in place measures to protect our shores, our fish stores and our children’s future.
When we think of the underlying causes of climate change, there is a natural variability but significantly there is a contribution from man-made activities.
In Barbados, it is almost a cultural staple to have someone bright and early in the morning (or any given time of day for that matter) ‘burning stuff’. It is in this regard that the development of another cultural practice should come to the fore – recycling. This should not just be a special drive over a weekend, or a few cans at some of our schools. It should be the daily practice of all citizens. Yes, I know it cannot happen tomorrow but we can start today.
We revisit the black exhaust coming from our vehicles. Drivers should ensure that their vehicles are in good working order and perhaps penalties should be imposed if ailing vehicles are seen on our roads.
There should be a move afoot for more widespread use of alternative sources of energy, thereby reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. It is heartening to see more electric vehicles on our roads; and the excellent projects coming from our school children inspire us as adults to make the much needed changes for the preservation of our nation.
Most of us as Barbadians cannot swim. As such we should walk circumspectly as a people when it comes to protecting our environment to avoid us disappearing below sea level. Whilst most of us may never have the opportunity to speak at a high level United Nations meeting, we can each make a difference by our daily choices.
(Rénee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:[email protected])