On the heels of the IPCC climate report, Elizabeth Francis reflects on deforestation, development, and the urgent need for action against the accelerating climate crisis.
“Raise your voice and let your opinion be heard in decisions made to replace natural green spaces... climate change is happening and it's all our business.”
Esther quickly entered her mother's home and discarded her shoes as she beelined for the huge Lasko fan in the center of the living room. She stripped off her work blouse, reclining herself on the nearest couch.
“Steups (a sound of disapproval or annoyance), what's wrong with you, girl?” her mother asked as she looked up from her open newspaper. “Good evening, did you eat your manners?”
“No Maaa, good evening,” she replied in her thick island accent. “Oh lord, it’s hottttt! I can't take this heat, Mom. I feel like I'm burning up!
This may be a fictitious scenario to some, but it's a reality on the Caribbean Islands. Yes, we are known for the sun, sea, and sand. The rest of the world comes here to soak up its natural goodness; but of late, it’s a different kind of heat.
We are witnessing deforestation in the name of progress, with developers clearing land for housing and commercial developments. Citizens are frustrated with the lengthy and costly process of acquiring land legally. Instead, they occupy land, slashing and burning for unplanned farming. This illegal and unsustainable logging contributes to rapidly increasing temperatures and soil erosion worldwide.
Today deforestation accounts for 20% of the global man-made CO2 emissions. We seem to have forgotten the importance of photosynthesis, one of the primary functions of our trees. They breathe in carbon dioxide and clean the air. The more trees disappear, the hotter and more toxic our environment becomes.
Our prime minister recently got into a heated debate over preserving one of our national parks. Nelson Mandela Park was earmarked to be outfitted with an artificial surface as part of the capital infrastructure upgrade. The prime minister declared his non-support for such a venture by city planners.
The decision sparked an uproar. Environmentalists were up in arms that the idea was even entertained. For decades, the park has been a popular green space, home to many sporting enthusiasts, families enjoying weekend leisure time, and an outdoor entertainment hub.
This colorful, lush park is an oasis amid an otherwise heavily trafficked town with rising temperatures. Every surrounding building is equipped with air conditioning, as it’s impossible to function without it.
To replace what's natural with something that's artificial benefits only the developers in the long run. We’re left to wonder if developers conducted proper consultations or considered sustainability.
Forests cover 31% of the land area of our planet. According to an article in worldwildlife.org, our forests – and to a lesser extent our trees – play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink, soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise pollute the atmosphere and contribute to the ongoing climate crisis.
The adverse effects of climate change are a global problem. When forests fall to illegal logging or agricultural conversion, they are lost forever. The animals and insects that are part of the amazing ecosystem are lost as well. We witness deforestation that affects people’s livelihoods, displacing wildlife and tribes that inhabit forests in Africa and other regions.
We experience increased heat waves across American states and prolonged winters in Europe and Canada. Glaciers in the Antarctic are melting, while Central America and the Caribbean brace for some of the most destructive hurricane seasons to date.
As the park debate raged here, recent rains brought unprecedented flooding. At one point, the water came down the mountains like an unstoppable giant, moving everything in its pathway. Homes flooded, vehicles swept away, and bridges were displaced.
Once again, there was a huge outcry as authorities and the communities impacted searched for answers. People shared their heated opinions. We realized the need to look at climate change effects and how we can make a difference.
Our country is a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. According to the Ministry of Planning, Trinidad and Tobago is committed to reducing greenhouse gas by 30% by December 31, 2030. This is a step in the right direction. But how much of this depends on our actions as individuals, as citizens of the planet?
Time is of the essence. We need to treat this crisis with urgency. It's okay for the governments to have plans and policies, but what about us? Scientists have warned that we have just under a decade to cut our emissions in half to avoid the devastating impacts of climate change on our food supply, national security, global health, and weather patterns.
Knowledge is power. I believe as women we can lead the charge. Getting informed and learning more about the science behind climate change is one way to begin. Moved by their personal experiences with climate change, women like Esther are getting involved in local groups and spreading awareness. We can lend our voices to issues happening in our countries or communities most impacted by climate change. We can follow groups and read up on the work they are doing to bring educational awareness. Two such groups are EarthDay.org and WorldWildLife.org. Locally, we have the I Am Movement learning portal and the Sustainable Revolution Caribbean Facebook group, where I seek to educate, share the work of others around the globe making an impact, and encourage sustainable living.
Consider changes you can make to your lifestyle to create less waste and adopt habits that support the environment. For example, you can reduce, reuse, and recycle. You can read labels, choosing sustainably made garments and products. You can plant trees and fill your living spaces with plants that purify the air.
Raise your voice and let your opinion be heard in decisions made to replace natural green spaces in the name of development. Whether you live in the Caribbean like me or other parts of the globe, climate change is happening and it's all our business.
This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.