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A state of studied denial

Published: 
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I can’t remember where or when it was, but it was from the mouth of a school child that I first heard what turned out to be a pretty longstanding dictum: “Weather determines what you wear, but climate helps you decide what clothes to buy.”

There is another one inconclusively attributed to Mark Twain which asserts that “climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”

I return to the issue of climate change because last week I asked that we keep vigil over the minister of finance and last Friday’s budget presentation. Not for fuel prices. Not for utility rates. But for mention of an issue repeatedly referred to in the Vision 2030 document described by planning minister, Camille Robinson-Regis, as a “robust and prudent development agenda to successfully navigate the country back to socio-economic prosperity.”

Even the Opposition Leader’s response to the budget presentation flags the issue twice, though only en passant to score political points related to sustainable generation of electricity and the country’s faltering ICT gains.

Last week I took time to go back to the Dominican prime minister’s July 27 budget presentation and remarked that the word “climate” appears just once. On September 23 at the United Nations, the word earned 16 mentions from the beleaguered leader.

Next month, in Bonn, Germany this country will invest in attending the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

I covered one such event—COP 17 in Durban, South Africa in 2011. It was very serious business and I know Caribbean researchers there were of the highest quality and made informed contributions. It is no mere “talk shop.”

The Caribbean has also undoubtedly produced some of the best climate scientists and researchers in the world. Some of them share the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with colleagues from around the world and many are here this week.

They have been discussing a way forward for the region in negotiating a better deal globally in the context of a proven threat. There has been for some time, for example, a proposal on the table for the swapping of debt in exchange for climate change adaptation. Is it that regional finance ministers consider the proposal to be “pie in the sky?” They haven’t been talking about this.

The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne made the point at the UN on September 21. “We are the least of the polluters, but the largest of the casualties.”

Skerrit himself provided the painful summation, only days following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, that “to deny climate change is to deny a truth we have just lived.”

At the same time, examine government policy region-wide and the investments our countries appear willing to make, or not make, to adapt to the virtually assured intensification of weather episodes over the short to medium term.
We in T&T, along with Caricom neighbours to the south, Suriname and Guyana, proudly declare lesser vulnerability to the trans-Atlantic corridor through which the storms flow, but there is nothing to suggest impregnable resilience in the event the trajectory ever changes, or that rising sea levels will not seriously impact our shorelines and everything they contain.

I looked last weekend at the damaged seawall along Guyana’s Atlantic coast and the thought occurred that it is impossible not to harp on this theme, not as an alarmist, but as part of a reasoned argument to indeed “change the paradigm”—as the budget promised, but failed to deliver.

Former Deputy Secretary General of Caricom, Prof Kenneth Hall, declared 20 years ago that the alternative to integration and the value it brought to the resolution of very difficult issues was to “perish.”

Today, with two Caribbean islands forced to be temporarily depopulated and people at the helm, even across the political divide, in a state of studied denial, Prof Hall’s metaphor earns special attention on other grounds.