Whose responsibility is it? # 24 - Global warming and climate change: international considerations for Jamaica

The concept of climate change is again a very topical issue. Jamaica has had two recent bouts with heavy rains that have emphasized previously known areas of hazards, and have identified totally new areas that were previously overlooked or were dormant. The estimates of damages are not yet final, and even due diligence will not capture undocumented losses of agriculture, livestock, or illegal housing. Therefore the potential losses will continue as mere replacement does not necessarily equal enhanced restoration.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Cowboy Trump has exited the O.K. Corral, leaving the rest of the world to carry the bodies to Boot Hill. A classic cowboy move that assures him a starring role in climate change, with the fully armed cavalry riding to save the drowning, starving, and marooned citizens of New Orleans, and not a “bully beef” in hand.

To be fair, the USA (despite their blustering) had never signed the Paris Accord, and so were merely hangers-on trying to control the direction of the bus. Perhaps this will embolden the other nations to ignore them, make progress, and allow the USA to pursue their own devices. This suddenly empowers China, Germany, Russia, France, the rest of the EU, Africa, Australia, South and Central America, Canada, et al to ignore the USA and put environmental taxes on products of USA origin.

Such a move will certainly elicit retaliatory measures from the USA and we could be heading very quickly towards an ugly trade situation. For Jamaica, the USA is our largest trading partner, and any disruption will create a scenario that we will have to resolve very quickly. Rational persons will presume that such actions will never happen because there will be negative impacts on World Trade. But that argument is based on the belief that the POTUS is a rational man.

Firstly, we will have to find some new markets (something we should have been doing for a long time). The message is no different to the ones we received for sugar, bananas, or citrus (nothing preferential). The trade “Test Match” will be all away games and we must be prepared to go it alone, or face the consequences.

Secondly, we will have to send our best teams on tour and not keep them for inter-parish matches. This is a great paradigm shift – best brains to overseas development? This is not appealing for those of us who live comfortable lives in Jamaica even while paying three times as much for those SUV’s than our American counterparts pay. So something has to give.

Thirdly, we may expect very little donor money, particularly from the USA, who has indicated that much of the AID money may go into the wall-building project. (Perhaps we should seek contracts through our Diaspora and start laying bricks for US dollars along the Mexican border.)  

Fourthly, the prospect of speedy relief in times of disaster is becoming less, and we should be prepared to fend for ourselves. Climate change and its hazards have become our problem and ours alone.

Resilience on all fronts has become the order of the day, and it is extremely urgent for our own survival.

How many housing and hotel developments can survive a 1 meter rise in sea levels? Similarly how many can survive a tidal movement or tsunami of more than 5 meters? Therefore the protection of our island’s coastline must include action on the creation of new reefs for protection as well as fish breeding.

The popular ploy of requesting money from donors to fund endless academic studies must be weighed against our self-investment in taking action. People must be removed from gullies, rivers, and other unsafe locations. Houses need to be constructed away from danger zones, and persons must comply.

Concrete roads versus marl and asphalt have no further time for debate. If concrete is better in some areas, and traditional is better in some, then it is simply decision-making time. Countries have been doing both for over a century, so data is available. So too are retaining walls in areas of known land slippage zones, and in many communities, the building skills are among the population and should not always require the mobilization of large contractors, or politicians.

Compliance with laws is not an option for any Government, and by saying that I include the Opposition. The cheap words uttered in Parliament that try to claim squatters and illegal builders as “their party” needs to come to an end. It is a debilitating factor that has a future cost that people need to understand.

The UWI lands now called Mona Commons is a good example. Firstly, the conditions threaten the accreditation of the Medical School and the Hospital and one day we may not be able to grant medical degrees. That will mean that student doctors and nurses will have to be trained overseas, and most will be unable to afford that even if they can get the necessary visas.

Secondly, the expansion of the hospital facilities will have to be modified. Thirdly student housing will go further away and will increase travel costs, and convenient access to study facilities. These three alone will increase the cost of treatment to every patient, including the persons in Mona Commons.

Similar situations exist across the entire country and threaten Dunn’s River; Rio Grande; Black River; Portmore; and so many other communities. We will not get assistance to clean up our own neglect, filthiness, and indifference that are threats to sustainability.

As indicated, it is not a time for research on more research; it is a time for decisive action that will mitigate disasters and prevent losses. Whose responsibility is that?