Climate Change is a broad topic that we’re all aware of, but what do we really know about the effects of climate change? How do they impact us from day to day, and why should be concerned?
- Water Shortage
As climate change continues, weather patterns are affected, leading to increased drought in many areas. For example, the severe drought currently occurring in Somalia has led to the death of over 110 people in just 48 hours from hunger and lack of clean drinking water. Climate change is already leading to rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and increasing drought, which affects the amount of water in rivers, and streams, as well as the amount of water that seeps into the ground to replenish ground water. These conditions put a strain on the existing water available for drinking and agriculture.
Here in Jamaica, we’ve already seen some of the effects that extended drought can have on our water availability (remember the 2014 and 2015 drought and the severe water shortage some of us faced?) As climate change continues, these situations will only continue to get worse over time, forcing us to adapt to living using less water in order to support our needs.
Climate change also has significant consequences on our health, causing rises in diseases caused by air pollution, temperature-related illnesses, and vector-borne diseases. While ozone found high in the earth’s atmosphere protects us from the sun’s harmful rays, ozone close to the earth is created from pollutants that undergo chemical reactions in the atmosphere. This is made worse by climate change, as more ozone is created when the atmosphere is warm. Air pollutants, including ozone, is dangerous for us to breathe, and can make asthma and other lung conditions worse. Extreme heat can cause illnesses such as heat cramps, heat stroke, and even death, and in some countries, heat waves cause more deaths than other natural disasters, like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.
Even scarier, climate change might also speed up the spread of some infectious diseases. As winter temperatures increase, ticks and mosquitoes that carry diseases, such as Zika-A and malaria, can survive longer throughout the year and expand their ranges, putting more people at risk of contracting these diseases.
- Disappearing Beaches & Tourism
Climate change results in increased sea levels, which also means less space on our beautiful beaches to enjoy.
[Photo Credit: Top: Kamilah Taylor. Bottom: Gabrielle Taylor]
This image shows Hellshire Beach in 2009 (top) compared to a photo taken at the same location in 2016 (bottom), only 7 years later. As you can see, most of the beach has completely disappeared. In a country like Jamaica, where a large proportion of our economic potential lies in revenue generation from tourism, this effect of climate change is particularly alarming. Without our trademark “white-sand beaches” to visit and enjoy, experts have forecasted a decrease in the number of tourists flocking to our island. This also affects the livelihood of vendors and fishermen, who will be significantly disadvantaged by our disappearing beaches. Even more alarming? A study predicted that it would cost more than US$1.5 million (J$176 million) to stop the erosion at HELLSHIRE ALONE. Breakwater projects to curtail the erosion are in progress at some beaches in Negril, however these are just first steps to tackle the issue, and addressing this islandwide is likely to prove expensive and time consuming.
- It’s getting hotter!
One of the most recognizable effects of climate change is how hot the earth is becoming. 2016 was recorded as the hottest year ever, and 2017 seems to be on track for beating that record. This conundrum also creates more problems, because increase in temperatures will lead to an increase in the use of air conditioning units, which then leads to an increase in energy usage, and until we switch from depending on burning fossil fuels, this will add to the greenhouse gases that humans are pumping into the atmosphere, which in turn, will only make us hotter still.
- Crop Losses
Climate change and increased droughts could make it too hot to grow certain crops, and reduce the amount of water available for irrigation. This not only directly affects the livelihood of many Jamaicans, but it also threatens our food security, as many of us are dependent on the products of local agriculture for our food. Climate change will also probably increase the power of storms and create more floods, resulting in more damage to crops, and higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns could help some kinds of weeds and pests to spread to new areas.
- More Bush Fires
Wildfires (bush fires) occur both naturally and by human error. Extremely dry conditions in droughts allow fires to start more easily, spread more quickly, and burn much longer. Bush fires not only result in the destruction of land and forests, but also threaten people’s lives and property. As the Earth gets warmer and droughts increase, wildfires are expected to occur more often and be more destructive.