From the poles, such as in this picture where a polar bear walks along the ice flow in Baffin Bay above the Arctic circle, to the shores of The Bahamas, climate change is predicted to have a huge effect on the world we live in.
By Dr Adelle Thomas and Lisa Benjamin
INTERNATIONAL experts consider The Bahamas to be one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, but what do Bahamians know about this issue?
The Climate Change Initiative, a Bahamian-based climate change think tank, recently conducted a pilot survey to determine public perceptions about climate change risk in The Bahamas. While many other countries have conducted surveys of public perceptions about climate change, and update these surveys on a regular basis, The Bahamas has not yet begun to systematically assess what the public knows about climate change.
As a highly vulnerable country where climate change will have environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts, it is imperative that Bahamians are educated about what climate change means for the nation, for their communities and for themselves. This survey is a first step in assessing what Bahamian residents know about climate change, and determining what public education is needed to ensure that residents are well aware of how climate change will affect them.
The pilot survey was administered online and Bahamian residents were recruited using email, social networking sites and mailing lists. Over 500 residents completed the 24 question survey and the results were enlightening.
Compared to other developing countries, Bahamian residents have a high awareness of climate change, with over 80 per cent being familiar with the terms ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’.
However, most residents thought that climate change would have more significant impacts for the rest of the world than for The Bahamas or for themselves. This result shows that residents are not aware that The Bahamas is extremely vulnerable, and that climate change will affect all residents of the nation. Despite thinking that the rest of the world will be more significantly impacted, over 80 per cent of respondents foresaw negative changes to The Bahamas due to climate change in the next 50 years. Natural resources such as coral reefs, fish stocks and fresh water were identified as being most negatively affected by climate change.
Social and economic impacts such as standards of living, tourism and rates of disease were thought to not be as “at risk’’. This shows that there is a lack of understanding of the connection between natural resources, industries such as tourism that rely on these resources, and implications of a decline in the economy and in standards of living and health due to climate change.
The impact of climate change that residents identified as being of greatest concern was sea level rise. This makes sense for a nation comprised of small, low-elevation islands. However, migration of people was identified as being of least concern. This result shows that there is lack of understanding of the connection between sea level rise, loss of land, and the need for people living in vulnerable coastal areas to relocate.
The vast majority of respondents indicated that they did not think that The Bahamas was doing enough to address climate change and over half of respondents also indicated that they personally do nothing to address climate change. About 50 per cent of people taking the survey agreed that protecting the environment should be given a greater priority over economic growth. These responses show that there will likely be support for public policies and action that seek to reduce vulnerability to climate change, even if there will be costs for such action, and this is good news for policy makers.
There are some limitations to this pilot study that should be addressed in future studies. Respondents were generally females in their early 20s with some level of college education, a group that is not representative of the average Bahamian resident. This is likely due to the usage of an online survey that decreases the inclusion of older persons or people without internet access. A future survey should have the option to be completed on paper, be sure to include residents of all ages, and ensure that people living on Family Islands are also involved. It is also important that the survey be repeated over time, to garner an overall picture of climate change knowledge in the country.
The pilot survey demonstrates that Bahamian residents generally have a good knowledge of what climate change is, but need further information on the variety of impacts that climate change will have for The Bahamas. The survey also indicates that public support for policy making in the environmental arena, and climate change in particular, is high. As the number of extreme events such as Hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew impose ever-increasing losses damages and costs on the country, both residents and policy-makers alike should be motivated to focus effort and attention on climate change adaptation policies and actions.
The full results of the survey can be found in ‘Perceptions of Climate Change Risk in The Bahamas’ in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences (2017) DOI: 10.1007/s13412-017-0429-6. More information about climate change can be found on the Climate Change Initiative’s website: www.climatechangebahamas.org
• Lisa Benjamin and Dr Adelle Thomas are assistant professors at The University of The Bahamas, and co-founders of the Climate Change Initiative (www.climatechangebahamas.org).