Audrey Peterman | Collective effort to fight climate change
Ominous signs of climate change adversely affecting Jamaica are becoming almost impossible to miss, unless one is determined not to see them. Former US Vice President Al Gore quoted the ancient proverb in his 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, warning about the increasing threat posed by global warming: “You can wake up someone who’s sleeping, but you cannot wake up someone who’s pretending to be asleep.”
The obvious evidence of high, oppressive heat persisting into mid-November, accompanied by drought and reduced rainfall make it farcical to keep revisiting the fact. We are unfortunately leading the way in two negative ways – being among the first two cities in the world to reach “climate departure” when the extremes of the past become the norm, according to the Climate Shift Index released by the non-profit Climate Central, we had the highest average of 175 countries analysed. However, you look at it, that’s not good.
The question is, how prepared is the public to deal with effects that can be very sudden and highly devastating? What is the level of awareness and readiness in the general population? As a small island (the Rock!) in the Caribbean Sea we are highly vulnerable. The readiness of our infrastructure, such as roads, hospitals, emergency shelters, water and power are vitally important, and so is the readiness of our three-million population. Urgently informing, engaging and preparing the people is a key factor in how well we will survive a disaster.
A review of the Websites of relevant government agencies and non-profit organisations shows a commendable effort under way. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (OPDEM) is an umbrella for multiple relevant institutions, agencies and organisations including The University of the West Indies, the National Environment and Planning Agency and the Jamaica Red Cross. It also offers a volunteer programme that trains people to “support the local community/parish mechanism in response and recovery during and after emergencies”, and invites the public to request hazard vulnerability and risk assessments.
Does the rubber meet the road? If so, where? A majority of people are unlikely to go searching for information about something they know little of, and might prefer to know even less. But if we accept that the effects of climate-change pose an existential threat – i.e. – a risk to our very survival, who wouldn’t want to get onboard to help prevent that? A public information and engagement campaign that enlists the public as equal partners in our response is an urgent next step.
An example of how we might be proactive at the grassroots level was provided by Boulevard Baptist Church in September when the Empowerment Committee hosted a panel on “climate change and its effects” at the church, made available on Zoom. Panellist Professor Michael Taylor, dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The UWI and a globally recognised climate expert stated, “Urgent climate action is the only way to secure a liveable future for us all . . . The summer of 2023 left us with one big lesson, ‘Those who can’t hear will feel.
Professor Taylor said we felt the heat of the new climate era we’ve entered, an era marked by instability, and saw the unfairness and inequality of its effects upon the vulnerable.
“If unpredictability is our reality, climate-change is a stewardship issue for the Church,” he said. “Our faith tells us we have a responsibility for the created order. If it affects the most vulnerable among us, the Church has the responsibility to take the lead and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, even when no one else is willing.”
Emphasising the need for public education, Professor Taylor said it has to be a sustained process, not just an occasional event. He cited the need for mitigation to reduce the heat that’s causing the problem and said we must urgently look at what forms and amounts of energy we’re using, the waste we’re producing, and the value we place on our forests and sea among other natural assets. Simultaneously we must engage adaptation – changing the things we do so that people can have alternative ways of making a living, and developing climate smart farming by growing crops that are more resistant to drought. Ultimately, Professor Taylor said, the future depends on what we do today, He called for urgent action.
This method of communicating the message is an incalculable asset, as churches have access to the greatest number of people, and are a trusted source of information. A combination of government efforts allied with churches, schools, corporations and community organizations delivering the same message will have the massive impact we need to rouse the population. In fact, nothing less will suffice. The media, artists and entertainers should also be fully engaged as they are among the greatest influencers. Every person should be taught basic first aid to be an asset in a disaster.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and we have increasingly desperate evidence of the ravages of climate-change from disasters around the world. The best way to improve our chances for survival is that everyone should know, and everyone should be pulling toward the same goal. It is foreseeable that this change in focus could bring about policies and procedures that help to improve the economic status and social conditions of people at the bottom of our society. As our National Hero Nanny and the Windward Maroons used everything at their means to repel the British from our shores, so today we must come together as one to minimise the impacts of climate-change upon our country and people. It’s our turn to fight!
Audrey Peterman has been a climate activist since 1997 and is author of the book From My Jamaican Gully to the World and Back, available at local bookstores. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org