Basil Jarrett | The heat is on. And it’s here to stay
LAST WEEK, Mother Nature gave us a very violent reminder that despite the great advancements we’ve made in science and technology, at the end of the day, she’s still the boss. The magnitude 5.0 earthquake which was felt right across the island, and as far away as Cuba and sections of the United States, came as abruptly and as without warning as every other earthquake before it.
We may have put a man on the moon, split the atom and created a vaccine for COVID, but until we are able to predict and foreshadow the most destructive tectonic forces on Earth, then we remain at the mercy of this planet’s temperament and mood swings.
But to be fair, not all such displays of Mother Earth’s awesome power are as spectacular and as earth-shattering as earthquakes. Some are a lot more subtle, more gradual and come with much more advanced warming. Take climate change, for instance, or as we used to call it in simpler times, “global warming”.
GLOBAL WARMING VS CLIMATE CHANGE
The term global warming was first coined in 1975 by American geochemist Wallace Broecker to describe the average increase in the Earth’s surface temperature due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. These emissions had the potential to either cool the planet through aerosol particles or warm it through greenhouse gases. A bit confusing, yes, I know.
If it’s global warming, then how is it that some places are getting colder? Donald Trump didn’t help the situation much either when he tweeted in 2019, “In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In the coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with global warming? Please come back fast, we need you!”
And you can’t really blame Trump for not understanding the phenomenon. As a result of the confusion brought by the term global warming, scientists slowly transitioned to a more nuanced, more accurate, more neutral description of what is happening to the world’s weather systems, and the term ‘climate change’ was adopted. Climate change, they argue, works better since it addresses shifts in the weather system that aren’t limited to temperatures. It also better communicates the complexities and severity of the environmental challenges that it brings.
Today, the term ‘global warming’ is still used to describe surface temperature increases, while ‘climate change’ includes all the effects of rising greenhouse gases such as extreme weather, food disruptions, super storms and hurricanes.
But that’s only half of the story behind the global warming to climate change deed poll.
DOWNPLAYING THE DANGER
In 2002, US Republican strategist Frank Luntz issued a memo to his Republican colleagues, including then-President George W. Bush, to create an environmental strategy that shows “sincerity and concern” for the environment. But rather than raise alarm bells about rising greenhouse emissions and the impact of high levels of carbon dioxide on the ozone layer, Luntz wanted to quieten fears by downplaying the concerns of environmentalists. He suggested that rather than repeating the term “global warming” with all its calamitous, doomsday connotations, the name ‘climate change’ sounds less frightening, less ominous, less “oh no, we’re all going to be roasted alive”. In other words, climate change suggests a kinder, gentler, less emotionally visceral description of what’s happening. This deliberate attempt to neuter the term also downplayed the seriousness of what was happening to our climate. People simply got disinterested and moved on. Climate change? Bah, humbug. As a result, environmentalists had an uphill task explaining what climate change is, the danger it poses and why anyone should be concerned. Until now, that is. Record temperatures and a 5.0 magnitude earthquake later, and Jamaicans are now suddenly concerned once more, about the environment.
But let’s get one thing clear: there is no scientific link between climate change and earthquakes. One common myth is that hot, dry weather conditions typically precede or lead to earthquakes. Thanks to science and myth busters, however, we know that quakes are caused by massive tectonic processes and movements within the Earth’s crust, especially along earthquake fault lines. And because many earthquakes occur underwater and far beneath the Earth’s surface, surface temperatures and conditions clearly have little impact.
THE THREAT IS HERE
In other words, last week’s earthquake isn’t the latest example of our planet running a high fever. But does this mean we can therefore downplay the severity of climate change? Absolutely not.
I don’t think I need to remind anyone of how hot Jamaica has suddenly become. Last June, we recorded our highest temperature on record at 102 degrees, and have since been experiencing some blazingly hot days and nights. Lasko fan salesmen have been struggling to keep up with demand and ACs have suddenly taken over from iPhones and those butt-ugly Balenciaga sneakers as the latest status symbols. Light bills have skyrocketed, as have incidents of road rage as tempers flare in the hot, sweltering, miserable traffic. Needless to say, global warming, climate change or whatever you call it, has finally arrived after years of warning that it was coming.
Without a doubt, rising temperatures, more frequent and more severe hurricanes and changing weather patterns are putting our environment and livelihoods at risk. But there are steps that we can all take to make a positive difference and reduce its impact.
SAVING THE PLANET
The first thing that we can do is to conserve energy by turning off lights, appliances, and air conditioners when not in use. Energy-efficient LED bulbs have come down greatly in price over the years, as have solar panels or other renewable energy sources. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is still as relevant as ever, and buying locally produced fruits and vegetables reduces carbon emissions associated with transporting them over long distances.
It’s also a good idea to begin planting more trees, especially as high-rise apartment buildings continue to replace green areas across built-up communities. Trees are natural carbon sinks and can dramatically reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.
Another high-impact activity that can have a great effect on our climate is simply to reduce the amount of vehicles on the road. I am disheartened to see that even after COVID gave us the blueprint, companies and organisations seem to be reverting to pre-pandemic workplace dynamics, and are abandoning the energy-saving benefits of work-from-home and telecommuting. Carpooling is another practice that needs to be more encouraged or somehow incentivised. I can’t tell you how it pains me to see dozens of single-occupant cars lining my street in the 8 a.m. traffic, only to return in the evening at the same time with the same sole inhabitant.
But perhaps the most important action we can take is to educate ourselves and others about climate change and its impact on Jamaica and to share this knowledge with others. It’s also a good idea to support political candidates, government policies, and corporate programmes that prioritise climate action and sustainable policies, such as renewable energy and green initiatives.
At the end of the day, every small effort counts, and when combined with the actions of others, I think we can make a significant impact in preserving our country for generations to come.
Major Basil Jarrett is a communications strategist and CEO of Artemis Consulting, a communications consulting firm specialising in crisis communications and reputation management. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Threads @IamBasilJarrett and linkedin.com/in/basiljarrett. Send feedback to email@example.com