Post 414.

I WRITE ON a glistening wet morning in dry season, expecting flooding in some areas, thinking of farmers with crops at risk, wondering whether the poui trees which glory in hot, dry breezes are shaking their heads in confusion. 

The rain has been lulling, like a river flowing through the dawn and again rising in the afternoons over these past days. The Northern Range breathes cool air, perhaps in relief, as threatening fires are drenched. Held close indoors by the surrounding water, it’s a time to appreciate home and family, an opportunity already provided by covid19, once those spaces and relationships are safe. 

It’s hard to predict the direction our ecology is going to take, it could be extended dry seasons, it could be a heavy wet season. There hasn’t yet been an observed trend between 1900 and 2014 in the Caribbean, but longer dry spells and hotter days are predicted. Hard to imagine on such a rainy day. 

Climate change is hard to connect to precisely because such changes are hard to imagine. Yet, the science is clear. 

The Guardian Observer reports that 19 of the 20 warmest years on record have been recorded since 2001. The Paris agreement set a target not to exceed 2C, with the ambition to remain below 1.5C. Temperatures have already risen above 1C. Levels of CO2, which contribute to warming of the atmosphere, are at the highest level for millions of years. 

Our neighbour, Guyana, which is set to extract more oil that we can imagine, is about to become one of the biggest contributors to the temperate rise in the southern part of the Americas. Wealth extraction at the bottom of the Caribbean chain will circle into wealth loss at the top, where Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica and the Antilles lie. More severe hurricanes and sea-level rise are already realities. 

Last year’s State of the Caribbean Climate Report pointed to a long-term 80 per cent increase in storm strength and a potentially larger than 30 per cent increase in rainfall in the hurricane’s core by the end of the century. That feels far away, yet I find news reports on ice cracking apart hard to watch because that ice is unlikely to freeze again, and already we can see the difference on eastern and southern coasts of the country. 

Again, it’s hard for these connections to feel real or present on a regular, working Monday or at month-end when families may barely be making it to or past pay day. Except when heavier rains result in lost crops and higher food prices, the daily impact isn’t quite apparent. The changes are so expansive and yet feel remote; from the bleaching of coral reefs from warming sea temperatures or the food challenges for polar bears to the need for changed regional state policy and industrial practices as well as changed consumer demand. 

Of course, women, men, girls and boys will be differently affected by these changes, depending on their responsibilities to the family, the assets they can access, the decision-making power they have, and intersecting issues of age, class, gender expression, sexual orientation and disability. 

According to UN Women Watch (2011), women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of responsibility to secure water and food, unequal access to resources and to decision-making processes, and limited mobility. Fewer women than men may be able to swim. In some countries, staying with the elderly or sick puts women at greater risk. Women may also be likely to face sexual harassment, unwanted pregnancies and vulnerability to diseases from their increased vulnerability.

In Grenada, following Hurricane Ivan, Grenadian women had more restricted skills, higher rates of poverty and less mobility due to the burdens of care-giving. They, therefore, took a longer time to economically recover. For example, Kambon et al (2005) point out that, within the nutmeg industry, female farmers took a longer time to come back to their income stream than the men because of these realities.

By contrast, men are at higher risk because they are more likely to be involved in dangerous rescue efforts, to take fewer precautions with their health (and therefore contract, for example, leptospirosis), and to be injured as they protect their homes, boats, farmlands and livestock. Men with disabilities, poor men, unemployed men, gay men, and transgender people have higher vulnerability.

Climate changes may seem far away, but that gives us a chance to address these inequalities. Even now, these rainy-day conversations are necessary, from regional corporations to community charities.

Post 341.

The impact of devastation in the Bahamas gets more disturbing as the days wear on. I’ve moved from fear for our Caribbean neighbours while watching the storm crawl over the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama to horror and sadness at what’s left of people’s lives.

Hope lies in all the immediate assistance with supplies for survival, but reading back to Dominica, Barbuda and Puerto Rico suggests that recovery will take far longer than our attention may sustain.

This is one of the challenges of disaster recovery, despite road maps for long-term response. All the Caribbean countries decimated by hurricanes in the past three years have families who remain living under tarpaulin, areas with long-term loss of electricity, risks from water contamination, and aid dependence. Grenada recovered from Ivan in 2004, but sits in the Caribbean Sea just as vulnerable as it was then.

Whole economies are reduced to zero GDP virtually overnight. New lives are made on loss more endured than overcome, particularly for those unable to migrate. And, Caribbean nations are falling under unimaginably catastrophic storms one by one.

Even resilience systems may not sufficiently help in the face of unprecedented storm surges that do worse damage than category 5 winds. In some countries, there may be too few safe places for everyone to shelter, and even if more people survive because of better information, structural construction, evacuation and preparedness, where would they go when their homes and communities are destroyed?

At a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees, the viability of the region is questionable. The region will become increasingly unlivable, and more ungovernable as suffering fuels insecurity and crime.

This is partly what happened in Venezuela which experienced huge declines in rainfall which starved hydroelectric power generators, leading to industry and agriculture collapse, blackouts, malnutrition, insecurity and exodus by millions.

On the other hand, in our lifetimes, we can expect heavy rainfall in Trinidad to flood everything between the Northern and Central Ranges.

In the Caribbean, there are already increases in air and water temperatures, daily intensity of rainfall, droughts, hurricanes and rising sea levels. All are expected to become more severe with hurricane wind speeds alone projected to increase by 2-11 per cent and mean sea level rise projected to be up by 1.4 metres (Taylor and Clarke et al. 2018).

We will pass an increase of 1.5 degrees given that no world patterns of consuming fossil fuels and producing carbon dioxide have changed. TT, Guyana and Suriname’s dependence on oil and gas contributes to such projected demise.

After these hurricanes, we’ve scrambled to share immediate relief. Longer term, activists have been pushing for a better response to climate change’s distinct harms to women and children, the disabled, elderly and migrants, but there will be a time when some of our region’s islands will simply produce refugees. What is our plan for this reality?

It’s more than investing in micro-electric grids, home-based water filtration systems and resilient homes. There isn’t a single serious plan across the anglophone region for the kind of projected conditions that Bahamian Angelique Nixon, in Guyana’s Stabroek News, rightly calls “apocalypse now”: a terror which we hope will just pass us by at this time every year.

TT’s Vision 2030 reads like a fairytale, almost a pretence that none of this matters for housing settlements, agricultural planning, mangrove protection, carbon neutrality or governance. Looking for a realistic strategy regarding climate change across Caricom is just as worrying as the destruction of Dominica, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, and to a lesser extent Cuba and Jamaica, becomes heart-breaking.

Nonetheless, for immediate assistance, Angelique Nixon is co-ordinating “a Relief Drive for The Bahamas supporting three women-led grassroots organisations on the ground – Lend A Hand Bahamas (https://www.lendahandbahamas.org/ & Facebook #lendahand242), Equality Bahamas (Facebook @equality242), and Human Rights Bahamas (Facebook @gbhra242).

“The core organisers here in Trinidad are UWI Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women, and the Emancipation Support Committee TT.

“Please donate relief items, such as adult and baby hygiene products, including soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, female sanitary items, adult and baby diapers, women’s underwear, baby formula and food, cleansing wipes, and non-perishable foods, which can be dropped off at any of those organisations’ headquarters.” Contact her via Whatsapp at 868-732-3543.

Long-term, however, think of supporting schools with books and supplies in a year’s time when recovery is less on media’s radar, and by strengthening Caribbean outrage and action against this predicted future.