Global warming must be the greatest security threat mankind faces, notwithstanding Donald Trump's return to the White House next year.
Yet the urgency and gravity of the situation seems far removed from the general understanding of the average TT citizen and, more importantly, from the apparent care of those whose responsibility it is to keep us secure.
July 2023 was the warmest in recorded global history and this October will be the first time that TT will have endured a month-long heatwave. The average daytime temperature is 34C (93 Fahrenheit) and 26C at night in Trinidad, with Tobago averaging about a degree lower.
In addition to the recent extreme heat, repeated flash flooding, caused by occasional heavy showers, has resulted in loss and distress. Wildfires during October are now a real possibility, given the increasingly arid, windy atmosphere.
Yet we are the lucky ones. Outside my window I see only green. The trees’ branches sway playfully in the warm breeze, the birds flutter under the blue-grey sky and the parrots still grab the few unripe mangoes on the tree at daybreak.
Last week, tropical storm Philippe left a trail of ruin through parts of the Leeward Island chain. In North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa, infernal fires have destroyed homes and forests, or extreme wet conditions have caused landslides and biblical-size floods. Paradoxically, water scarcity is becoming the norm.
It rattled Pope Francis enough for him to roundly criticise world leaders for their ineffectiveness in the face of such unprecedented threats. He is absolutely right to warn that we are nearing a breaking point and to call leaders and climate-change deniers out, and to denigrate all of us who take our comforts for granted and think nothing about driving around in our gas-guzzling cars with the AC on constantly or running our home ACs full blast.
In TT alone, our consumption of electricity will probably reach an all-time high by the end of October, but, like children, we won’t contemplate the consequences of that.
In his budget statement last week, Finance Minister Imbert informed us that our consumption of water per person is nearly double the regional average, yet because of subsidies, we pay the lowest regional price. In 2019, he said, our electricity consumption per hour per person was double the world average.
Regionally, only economically challenged Cubans pay less for their electricity. The various subsidies, described as part of our “safety net” in the budget, add up to billions of dollars spent indulging what can only be described as irresponsible lifestyles. They directly contribute to our per-capita carbon emissions being probably among the highest.
Pope Francis wants governments to take concrete steps to tackle climate change. Ours could improve by encouraging citizens to do the right thing through flagging its policies and earnestly attempting to save us from foreseeable dangers.
The government is trying to reduce our carbon emissions by investing in solar power and wind turbines. However, its rollout of solar panels to NGOs has been very slow – only 12 installed since 2020. Surely that cannot be the target rate, nor can this major transformation be achieved by the government, a state company, a few oil companies and NGOs.
We, the spoiled citizens, must be encouraged to be good global citizens. And if that is too grandiose a hope, then just working towards keeping our own shores from eroding and our mountains from burning would be a start.
How can our mindsets be changed? That is the challenge our state has not fully addressed.
Children are the key. Education rightly received a huge budget allocation, and energy and resources conservation should be now top of the list of subjects on the curriculum, since the very future of human life depends on it. Life skills should include surviving rising temperatures.
Secondly, adult education needs boosting. It is certain that T&TEC has records of peaks and troughs of electrical consumption and would know the effect of the heatwave on our consumption – but will it tell us? It definitely should, because if we were instructed in the consequences of our choices and actions, maybe we would consider alternatives.
Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley warned that a temperature increase over 1.5Cis a death sentence for Caribbean islands. However, we are on course for a 2.7C increase by 2099 and a sea-level rise of ten metres in the long term, which would significantly reduce land mass everywhere in our region.
That is a powerful message which our governments are not hammering home to us.
Let’s intensify our investment in alternative energies and the reduction in existing subsidies, but let’s also incentivise Trinbagonians to curb their habits by subsidies for good actions.
The place to start is with a regional and national communications policy on the subject.