By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
IT’S the stuff of apocalyptic movies.
Ocean waves wiping out entire cities and drowning families.
Mother Nature in all her fury flattening homes and buildings, as people scramble for shelter in stronger structures, some clinging to mangroves and tree branches in a desperate attempt not to be swept away by storm surge.
Desperate people barricading themselves inside their homes, fearful armed looters will storm in and steal precious food and resources – or worse.
Except this isn’t a scene from a Hollywood script, it was the fear and reality for many on Grand Bahama and Abaco who were subjected to Hurricane Dorian’s fury earlier this month.
And as thousands of people who were lucky to escape the storm with their lives struggle to pick up the pieces in the aftermath, one chilling fact remains.
Monster storms like Dorian are not an anomaly. They will become more commonplace as time runs out to save the world from climate change.
That might seem like an extreme, alarmist statement, but it’s the consensus of many scientists and climate change activists.
Mankind can no longer afford to be skeptical about the science. Human behaviour — our collective arrogance and abuse of the earth and its inhabitants – has come back to hit us in the face like a karma-filled boomerang.
While world leaders squabble about how to fix the issue, and the United States’ president pretends that the problem doesn’t exist, individuals will have to make extreme changes in their lives to save the planet – or risk not having one at all.
But can individuals really make a difference?
A recent United Nations report has found that adopting a plant-based diet could help stave off climate change.
Here’s how your slab of steak affects weather patterns. Massive amounts of food and water are given to farmed animals who are then killed and processed for human consumption. Vast swaths of valuable forest that land absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen for humans, such as the Amazon Rainforest, are then bulldozed for farmland and to grow crops for these animals to eat. These farmed animals also release a significant amount of greenhouse gases, which exacerbate the problem. The world over, animal agriculture is said to be responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the world’s transportation systems.
The UN report, released in August, explores how land-use practices have impacted the planet and finds that reduced meat and dairy consumption can help save the world.
Produced by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the report argues that if people eat more plant-based foods and sustainably produced animal products, that will “present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health”.
The report calls for people in Western countries to move away from a heavy reliance on factory farmed meat and animal products to a diet focused on whole grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables – things that have a lower carbon footprint than animal products.
By this point, you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, “I can’t give up steak or bacon. Why can’t the world’s leaders just come up with a nice solution to climate change that doesn’t affect my plate?”
The fact is, we all have to make changes if we want to have a suitable planet to live on.
The ferocity of hurricanes is expected to continue. With The Bahamas being a small, low-lying coastal country, our vulnerability cannot be understated.
Adelle Thomas, senior researcher at the University of The Bahamas and Climate Analytics, recently told Insight that the impact of climate change is increasing at an alarming and rapid rate – threatening mankind’s existence.
“As a Bahamian, I am very concerned about the increased levels of impacts that we face as global temperatures warm. We are currently at about one degree Celsius of global warming and are already experiencing hurricanes that are breaking records in intensity and levels of damage,” Ms Thomas said.
“As the world continues to warm, the impacts will only get worse and we may be facing storms that threaten our very existence. Not only do we need to be aware of the increased intensity of hurricanes, things like sea level rise, salinization of our water tables, changes in rainfall patterns and increased temperature and acidity of our oceans are under threat from climate change. We face losing our coral reefs that protect us from storms, losing our fisheries industry, losing our appeal as a tourism destination and losing our residents as they relocate to more stable countries.”
She explained that climate change is fueling the increasing intensity of hurricanes.
“Greenhouse gas emissions have led to warmer oceans, sea level rise, and increased levels of moisture in the atmosphere. These changes then result in hurricanes with heavier rainfall, higher storm surges and stronger winds – all characteristics that were seen with Hurricane Dorian,” she said.
When asked about the UN report’s recommendation of reduced meat consumption as part of the solution to climate change, Ms Thomas stressed that individual habits can have a widespread effect when multiplied. She added that lower meat and dairy consumption would not only be better for the planet, but for Bahamians’ overall health.
“The UN report highlights that there are some activities that we can take as individuals to reduce global warming,” Ms Thomas said. “As Bahamians, we are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and so I do believe that we should be doing our part in reducing emissions. Although our contribution to global emissions is small, we can be examples of the change that everyone around the world needs to make. Our personal activities do make a difference when they are multiplied around the world. Reducing meat and dairy consumption is a simple way to not only mitigate against global warming but to also address the health concerns that we have as a nation.”
While the world’s focus is on the devastation Dorian brought to Grand Bahama and Abaco, Ms Thomas believes our country should harness that attention to highlight the need for international cooperation to limit emissions and keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. And on a local level, The Bahamas must focus on a shift towards renewable energy, protect natural resources and stop green-lighting projects that decimate mangroves and coral reefs - which are natural barriers to extreme storms.
“There must be increased ambition at the international scale to limit global temperatures and prevent impacts of climate change from becoming even worse as temperatures increase,” Ms Thomas said. “Locally, we need to develop and enforce policies on adapting to climate change, on more effectively responding to disasters when they do occur, and on more stringent planning for where infrastructure and communities are located. We must take the impacts of climate change into account as we develop and stop approving projects that make us more vulnerable to climate change. For instance, approving the development of projects that remove our natural defences such as coral reefs, mangroves and sea grass only makes us more vulnerable to impacts of climate change.
“We must stop treating our natural resources as expendable and enact effective policies that keep our residents and resources as safe as possible. We also need to urgently shift to renewable energy. Remaining dependent on inefficient and expensive fossil fuels not only contributes to emissions but also places our natural resources at risk due to spills and leakages. We should be a leader in the world in showing that we can be a carbon neutral country and that other countries need to follow suit to limit global warming.
“However, if global temperatures continue to warm, there will be limits to our ability to adapt. As impacts increase and intensify there is only so much that we can do to prepare for and recover from record-breaking storms or to account for increased sea levels due to our flat topography.”
On the weekend, millions of young people around the world took part in a climate strike to bring attention to the crisis. Led by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, they want the world to wake up to the threat on our doorstep.
Let’s hope it’s not too late.