Living in a warming world

This week Pat Ganase discusses the need to make changes in our own lives to adapt to climate change

Climate change scientists are monitoring and adjusting the predictions of global temperature rise upward. While the countries that signed to the Paris Agreement of 2015 are working to keep global temperature rise under 2 degrees Centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), it is already anticipated that the rise may be higher.

Those monitoring the changing climate have observed that for even one-degree rise, the effects – increased precipitation, stronger deadlier storms forming over warming oceans - seem to be growing exponentially. This year’s hurricane season in the Atlantic may be considered evidence, although scientists are slow to conclude that one season may be part of a trend.

Ordinary citizens, however, must come to decisions about their homes, their livelihoods and protections for their families, in the face of higher storm events, greater flooding, and the effects these will surely have on coastal landscapes. It may seem that an individual, or community, even a country, by itself, is “farting against thunder” to believe that his/ her action might have an effect. However, the actions of individuals can coalesce into collective consciousness and inspire change.  

It is also hard to know whether the warming trend can actually be reversed, or only slowed. Even if we reduced or halted all major carbon producing activities, removed all plastics from our waste stream, do we know whether we have already passed the threshold of safety from deadly storms? Or will the earth, Mother Nature, whatever you call this planetary eco-system of which we are part, require time to assimilate the changes?

The question for the individual remains: how to survive in a world where there is increased incidence of severe storms and flooding; where there may be scarcities of fresh water and food. God may be a Tobagonian, but all it takes is one hurricane, one severe flood, one earthquake to take away our homes, to deprive us of shelter, food, water, safety and security.
Picturesque Charlotteville, north-west Tobago, was badly damaged by hurricane Flora in 1963.

In 1963, 54 years ago – outside the life span of half the population of Trinidad and Tobago - Flora passed over Tobago on its way to becoming a category 3 hurricane. In those days of limited detection (by radar) and even lower communications capability, the tropical storm which started off the coast of Africa (September 26) in the mid Atlantic, crossed Tobago late on September 30. Flora caused tides five to seven feet over normal, sank ships in Scarborough harbor, and brought rainfall so heavy that there was a mud slide from Mt Dillon to Castara. It is estimated the one third of the housing stock of Tobago was destroyed and 75% of forest trees in the Main Ridge Reserve were felled. Agriculture – especially cocoa and tree crops – were devastated and abandoned; a few of these cocoa estates are only now being rehabilitated. 

Flora went on to drop some of the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in the islands of the Greater Antilles: Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba.

Tobago knows the damage that can be inflicted by a one-in-a-hundred-years storm. Even though we may lie outside the statistical path of hurricanes, all it took was one outlier storm a few degrees south of the path to knock down the trees of the Main Ridge Reserve so that it would take another 25 years for the treeline to re-grow.

So what can we do for ourselves? What can we do collectively, as a community, an island, a nation? Should we consider different architecture (roofs that would not lift off in high winds for instance)? How should we protect the shoreline? Should we be thinking of bigger lifestyle changes? Here are some basic notes in case of storms and flooding. What more should we consider, and how should we now act.

A family plan includes:
Brief all members of your family about what they should do in an emergency: storm, earthquake or other disaster. If members are likely to be away from the home, what should they do. Figure out whether they might be safer in a school or public building than trying to return home. Make an emergency communication plan: what low tech methods might you have to use.

Assess the risk in and around your home: is the location prone to flooding? Are there tall trees around: ensure that branches are trimmed and maintained on a regular basis) Maintain your surroundings and the integrity of your house: clear drains and surrounding bush.
Identify a safe room: on the ground floor, is there a room (a bathroom for instance) that might be a place of safety.

Ensure that the plan includes the animals and pets in the household.

Do you live near the shore? On a hillside? Is there a building (school or church or solid structure) central to the community that might be safer than your home or the beach? Are there elderly persons in your home that might be better relocated before the storm?

If evacuation is necessary, where should the emergency shelters in your village or community be located? Get together with neighbours and determine your safe spots.

Create such a kit in a backpack or waterproof bag. Include flashlight, batteries, first aid supplies, critical documents (or copies), medications, cash. Update the kit on a regular basis.


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