Climate Change: a most serious global challenge

Dear Editor,
Every day we listen to or look at international news and hear and see reports of natural disasters that are causing huge damages. Fires are raging in California and this is very regular, so too in Australia, floods in various parts of the world, in the Philippians, Bangladesh and many other places.
These events are costing countries huge amounts of losses in property, due to destruction by fire and floods. Most of all, it accounts for the loss of lives, valuable lives, and results in tremendous grief and unbelievable human sufferings.
The frequency and strength of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are alarming and the destructive power increasing.
Most of these are the results of a great change taking place in relation to our global climate.
In an article I wrote in 1990, I had pointed out that one of the main issues as it relates to climate change was that the awareness of this phenomenon was that the mass consciousness lagged behind the danger.
Today that is no longer the case. The widespread coverage in the mass media and people’s own experience have raised the awareness in every nook and cranny of our world.
Moreover, scientists throughout the world have been sounding the alarm with growing urgency. They have pointed out that most of the damage that has been done and is being done to our global climate and the environment as a whole has been due to the activities of us, human beings.
In pursuit of wealth, we have created factories and are performing other activities that are poisoning our environment. It is not unusual to see in many countries, mainly in Asia, people walking around with face masks due to the pollution in the air.
The question is often asked as to why, with all the information that we have, we continue to pursue activities that are threatening life on earth. Instead of improving the environment, we continue to inflict serious harm to it.
There is no one answer to this. Many things contribute to what appears to be the world’s people consciously committing suicide. The causes are rooted in wealth and poverty!
As it relates to the developing countries, this danger is being fuelled by the grinding poverty in which huge sections of the population are forced to exist under.
Because of this, they slash and burn forests to grow food. Many are engaged in dangerous mining activities that are unregulated, illegal and leaves a wide swath of destruction. From poisoning our rivers and leaving huge holes in the grounds. These lead to sicknesses including malaria and many other health-destroying illnesses. Vital carbon-absorbing trees, which are hundreds of years old, are cut, thereby releasing tons of carbon and robbing us of materials to taking greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere.
At the other extreme is the wealthy persons and corporations driven by greed destroying our environment while wasting the world’s resources.
They are forces that are fully aware of the consequences of their actions but deliberately hide scientific findings and even spend millions on expensive lobbies to hamper any attempt to halt climate change.
Recently we learnt that some forty years ago, ExxonMobil had reports from their own scientists that their activities were contributing to great changes in the world weather patterns and serious negative impacts these have on the world’s health.
Instead of sounding the alarm, the information was deliberately withheld from the public.
A similar situation had developed with tobacco. For years, tobacco companies hid the dangers of smoking from the people. For them, profits were much more important than lives.
Today that same behaviour is now being magnified many times over. Large companies involved in plantation agriculture and mining have been using their influence and power to get politicians elected who doubt climate change and advocate the plunder of natural nature.
That seems to have occurred in our neighbouring Brazil where Lula was jailed to prevent him from contesting elections and elect a President who is not sympathetic with those who advocate preservation and conservation of resources.
As a result, the Amazon is burning to make way for the logging companies, the huge mining establishments and the large-scale farmers.
In the process, whole tribes of native peoples are threatened with extinction.
It is a sad commentary that much of the food produced in our world, as much as 1/3, is wasted, dumped, to keep prices up.
In the face of such grave threat, world leadership is sorely lacking. The quality of the political leadership in our world seems to have dissipated and has become less visionary, without a global grasp of reality.
This is seen in the lack of agreements and coordinated actions to halt and reverse climate change. Many conferences are held, sponsored by the United Nations but either agreements are not reached or are so watered down that they are practically useless. Moreover, no decisive actions are being undertaken to handle this global emergency.
Some social scientists attribute this serious drop in the quality of world leadership to the separation that has occurred between politics and economics. Power in many countries is not in the hands of the elected leadership but in the hands of corporate giants that have managed to separate central banks from the elected leadership of countries. The former Finance Minister of Greece, Varoufakis, related his own experience, when at a meeting with European Union Finance Ministers he was bluntly told that elections must not be allowed to interfere with economic policy.
As a result, huge corporations are attracting the best brains at the expense of the state!

Yet, in all of this, there are no innocent bystanders. We are all involved.
Our region, the Caribbean, is one of the least polluters, but we are not spared the devastation of climate change. Very often hurricanes wipe out almost 100 per cent of our economies. The Bahamas and Dominica are the most recent.
In our own Guyana, flooding is becoming more frequent. The last set of flooding in Mahaicony was due not to the rains but rising sea levels overflowing our sea defences.
To turn the tide, we need mass action. Some of that is taking place in various parts of the world but this needs to become a global movement. We must move it to the centre of political and economic life so that no person or party should hold high office if he/she is hostile to taking actions to halt and reverse climate change. People must make that clear, particularly at elections time.
Failing this, the fires of California and Australia, the flooding in the Philippines and Bangladesh would be child’s play as to what is ahead.
Now is the time to act.

Donald Ramotar
Former President