September 12, 2004
By Raffique Shah
SOME men, more so older men who know they do not have much time left on this here earth, tend to think alike, to peer into the future dispassionately.
After all, if, like me, you know you have at best maybe another 20 years to live, but given the rate at which you see your contemporaries falling victim to various "conditions", you give thanks to whoever for waking up and seeing another day. You try to live life to the fullest, savouring every moment, for you never know what the morrow may bring-or if there will be a morrow for you.
Which is why it's easy for people of my generation and those older than me to write off the dire predictions of some of the world's leading scientists and climatologists about global warming. After all, what does it matter to us if 50 years from now, the average temperature in the tropics rises to, 50 degrees centigrade, or if the polar ice cap melts and oceans rise anywhere between one metre and 100 metres?
We will have long expired and be safely ensconced upstairs or downstairs, depending on whether or not one believes in the hereafter. In a worst-case scenario, based on projections by some scientists, most of the earth will again be covered with water, with the islands of the Caribbean being a distant memory to all except the savages who will have clobbered to death all competition and taken the "high ground" at El Tucuche and Cerro del Aripo.
But then science also has ways of rescuing humanity from calamities worse than another "Great Flood" like the one that saw Noah building his famous ark. By the time global warming will have hit Mother Earth, there may well be entire communities living in space or in some habitable planet that will be discovered and colonised.
Man, after all, does not simply discover: history has taught us that discovery of new lands inevitably leads to decimation of the indigenous populations and full colonisation by those who are stronger, better armed.
So even as we contemplate a sweltering world that has been reduced to an oven by greenhouse gases, we must also look at the alternatives that science may come up with. Hell, NASA cannot be spending trillions of dollars just to peep into some obscure "black hole".
Still, such predictions and counter-predictions do bother us, at least those among us who have consciences, who think not only about ourselves, but about future generations. Which is why, I suppose, Keith Smith wrote last Friday about the grim prospects for the future as seen by some scientists.
The increased number of hurricanes and typhoons that we have witnessed over the past few years, their intensity, their destructiveness, has not gone unnoticed.
It's not that we have never had hurricanes like "Ivan The Terrible" in the past. Indeed, there are records of a hurricane hitting south-west Trinidad in 1933, and one even earlier than that.
But for almost a century we have grown to accept that while hurricanes form in the Atlantic around our latitude, they invariably tend to drift well north of us by the time they get here. And, pity the poor buggers, it is our Caribbean neighbours to the north and east of us who suffer most. And, of course, the southern and eastern seaboard of the USA absorbing their wrath before they dissipate.
But that seems to be changing. More and more we are witnessing hurricanes passing this way, too close for comfort. There was Brett that miraculously slipped past us, between Trinidad and Tobago, and a few others that veered away at the last moment.
Ivan brought home the reality of just how vulnerable we are, even though we were largely unprepared-much the way our Grenadian brethren were.
God, after all, is not just Trini, but the ultimate eastern Caribbean woman! Seriously, though, this changing pattern of tropical storms and hurricanes may well be the result of divine will.
But it could well be that global warming, which is largely induced by our wild use of fossil fuels with the resultant Co2 emissions, is behind the changing weather patterns.
If divine will is behind the destructive power of bigger and "badder" hurricanes, then there is nothing we can do to mitigate Her wrath. But if, as so many scientists have been warning us over the past 50 years, we are the architects of our own destruction, then surely we can and must do something about it.
Which is why the civilised world got together and agreed upon the Kyoto Protocol that calls on all nations to reduce their greenhouse gases emissions as one way of slowing, if not reversing, the effects of global warming.
Not surprisingly, the USA was one of a handful of countries that did not sign that agreement until a few months ago. The USA is also the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases.
And given the strong ties that many members of the George Bush administration have with big oil companies (the worst offenders in this regard), it was not surprising that there were several reversals in terms of policies previous regimes had agreed to. In fact, Bush & Co were caught lying on a number of emission-control roll-backs, and they were subsequently shamed into signing the Kyoto Protocol.
One crusader for immediate action in this fight for the survival of humanity is Tony Blair's chief scientist, Sir David King. Last February he told a Seattle gathering of scientists: "Climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today, more serious than even the threat of terrorism."
When he journeyed to Moscow recently to persuade Putin sign the protocol, he told the Russian leader that "global warming is a bigger threat than weapons of mass destruction". Not many people like Sir David, especially those like Danish professor Bjorn Lomborg (in political science, for God's sake!), who argues that the money developed countries will need to spend to curb global warming is better spent on meeting the immediate needs of the poor in today's world. Music for the ears of looting Third World leaders. But little comfort to my as yet unborn grandchildren, and generations beyond them.
There is not a whole lot we in Trinidad and Tobago, or indeed the Caribbean, can do to ensure that planet Earth remains habitable for those we leave behind as we join the passing parade.
But at the very least we must do our own house cleaning, change our downright nasty habits of further polluting an already over-polluted environment. And this caring for future generations must involve government, all industries, and the toothless EMA as well.