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Climate Change and

Sustainable Development

C-J Mohammed

The term ‘Climate Change’ has become increasingly popular in the world today; it is now taught
in schools and the public is being constantly encouraged to ‘Help Reduce Climate Change’. But
what is climate change? Climate change refers to the long-term change in the average weather
conditions or the distribution of weather patterns, including rainfall, cloud cover, humidity,
temperature, atmospheric pressure, sunlight and wind speed and direction, over periods of time
above thirty-five (35) years. This essay is aimed to highlight the significant causes and effects of
climate change in the Caribbean Region as well as to present various approaches for helping to
reduce climate change by achieving sustainable development in the Region.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the USA, there
are seven known indicators of climate change. These include the increase or rising of sea levels,
sea surface temperatures, ocean heat content, temperature over oceans, humidity, temperature
over land and troposphere temperature and the decrease of sea ice, glaciers and snow cover. All
of these indicators are being more frequently seen in the world today.
Climate change is causes by a process called ‘global warming’ where greenhouse gases (GHG),
whether it is carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, ozone or chlorofluorocarbons are emitted into the
atmosphere. This may be through the use of manmade products and appliances such as cars,
lighting, heating and cooling systems, or by factories and vehicles in the production of goods and
products like water bottles, computers and even the American Cheeseburger (the production of
each cheeseburger emits 3.1 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere).
These released gases act as a blanket in the atmosphere restricting the amount of heat that is
allowed to escape into space and the Earth gradually becomes warmer due to this excess heat.
Over the last hundred years the presence of these gases has increased rapidly, especially carbon


dioxide which remains for centuries. It has been estimated that the amount of Carbon Dioxide in
increasing at a rate of 0.2% to 0.7% per year.
In the Caribbean the most significant causes of climate change are the burning of fossil fuels
which use up oxygen and produces carbon dioxide, and deforestation- the large-scale cutting
down of trees and vegetation. Many islands in the Caribbean Region lay on main reservoirs of
crude oil and due to this these islands have many oil and gas refinery and processing plants which
emit large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air during refining and processing. The Islands of
the Caribbean are also small and therefore have a small land surface area. Most of this land is
occupied by either mountainous regions or large forests. As the human population and industries
of these islands grown more land space in necessary for the extension of settlements,
infrastructure and industries. Forests and vegetation are therefore cleared to facilitate this
expansion and development.
The rising global temperatures cause a rise in the rate of evaporation and by extension an
increased rainfall in some parts of the tropical areas. This results in floods and consequential
disease in flood production in those affected areas. Extreme weather conditions will also be
experienced in many countries like extended dry seasons, more forest fires, droughts, intense
storms, frequent tropical waves and more hurricanes. The economies of most Caribbean countries
rely mainly on tourism for revenue and foreign exchange. The previously mentioned events cause
a drop in tourism related activities and hamper the economic growth of countries in the Caribbean
Climate change has also lead to many other detrimental effects on the Caribbean Region
including the rising of sea levels and coral reef destruction through coral bleaching. The rise of


sea levels has brought about coastal flooding of low-lying areas, the loss of land to the sea and
the salination of groundwater storages; causing fresh water to become salty and killing the flora
and fauna which depend directly or indirectly on this water for survival. The destruction of coral
reefs contribute to coastal erosion, decline in fish stock, decline in tourism, potential loss of
sources of medicine and the loss of a natural heritage.
How can we prevent all this from happening? The answer is simple- it is though sustainable
development. The most frequently quoted definition of Sustainable Development is from ‘Our
Common Future’, also known as the Brundtland Report: "Sustainable development is
development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of needs,
in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be
given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on
the environment's ability to meet present and future needs." The United Nations’ –‘Sustainable
Energy for All’ definition of sustainable energy is however, ‘energy that is accessible, cleaner
and more efficient—powers opportunity.’
The Caribbean Islands are known by the world as a paradise under the tropical sun yet we
choose to drill into the ground for a source of non-renewable energy that will be gone for the next
million years if we continue to use it as we currently do. Why not use the alternative clean, green
and renewable energy sources that constantly blow upon us shines above us- the wind and sun?
In reality renewable energy sources will constantly have to compete with fossil fuels due to the
lack of environmental charges; by fuel subsidies offered by countries to attract investments and
the lack of public awareness of the long term benefits on renewable energy and the general
acceptance of conventional sources of energy. Although Sustainable Development has been

discussed, and inventions and policies invented, so too has the need and benefits of sustainable
energy been explored but never as fully exploited as non-renewable energy sources.

People are attracted to the price and value of products. The value of the product reflects the
quality of the resources used in the making of the product, as well as their level of satisfaction
derived from the use of the product. Many people choose to purchase products that are
considered luxurious without considering future implications. Sir Arthur Lewis noted that there is
the need for the population to recognize that “development requires that enough people in the
society have an attitude which reflects a willingness to make sacrifices.” If sacrifices are made
and energy is conserved in homes, businesses and workplaces, in addition to purchasing more
resource-friendly products, then in time the ‘fear of loss of comfort’ would be reduced and the
general public would better understand the importance of working towards sustainable
development through sustainable energy.

Simple actions, like using energy-saver light bulbs, might not seem to make a drastic difference
but if many people engage in this activity then excessive results would be seen. Continuing on
this point, the use of energy efficient products, although sometimes more expensive, usually last
longer than other products and may help to reduce expenditure in the future. Individuals must
realize or be shown that one should not just simply buy a product but first consider if it is
necessary to have that product and which product is more valuable and useful in the long run.

The previously mentioned approaches for achieving sustainable development were based on the
choices that each individual has but what can we do as a region to achieve sustainable
development? Solar energy is a main form of renewable energy that is harnessed using simple

solar panels that convert the heat energy from the sun into electrical energy. These panels can be
fastened to the roves of homes and buildings and also connected to storage cells that would
continue to supply electricity in times when the sun is not visible; thus making these buildings
self-sustainable in terms of electrical power. Solar panels can also be made buoyant and anchored
in the peaceful Caribbean Sea to minimize the land area that may be needed for construction.
Because they would be anchored and not built on the sight they would less affect the marine life
and could be moved back on land in the case of a storm, tropical wave or hurricane.
Similarly, windmills also yoke kinetic energy in the wind and convert this energy into electrical
energy. The powerful North-East Trade Winds blow upon the islands of the Caribbean Region so
if windmill farms are built along the North-East coasts of these islands then the energy
consumption of these islands can be provided for without compromising the environment. These
windmills can also be made buoyant and anchored in the sea like the solar panels, with large
energy storage cells that can be removed, replaced and carried onshore to supply this energy to
the people. Although these approaches may seem costly at the time, if the countries of the Region
pool their resources together for the betterment of the people and the environment then it can be
achieved. Only then will long-term results be seen with respect to a reduction in the levels of
greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted into the atmosphere and by extension a reduction of the effects
of climate change experienced by the Region.
It has now been revealed that a secure and sustainable energy future in the Caribbean Region can
be obtained by not only through the work of the lawmakers but also through the perseverance of
each individual. Keeping this in mind, I would like to conclude with a quote by Mrs. Malini
Maharaj, lecturer in Economics at The University of the West Indies, ‘The potential for human
brilliance continues to demonstrate that necessity is indeed the mother of innovation. This

however, does not mean that the solution is in the complete removal of unsustainable energy but
at least the willingness to do so by some in order to pave the path of enlightenment.’


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