Infrastructural damage in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines town of Georgetown, following the Christmas Eve 2013 storm. Photo Credit: trust.org
In a lot of developed countries, and especially those in temperate climates, it is easy to think of climate change as something that is going to happen. A threat that will influence the lives of our children or grandchildren. However, in a lot of places people are already experiencing a lot of the negative effects of global warming. Particularly developing countries around the equator are seeing the impact and if you happen to live in a small island state you are facing an even higher risk. St. Vincent & the Grenadines, unfortunately, fits perfectly into all these categories.
At Richmond Vale Academy we went out into the local communities to observe and talk to people about their experience with living in a place that is changing rapidly. Not all of the people we met were familiar with the concepts of Global Warming or Climate Change but everyone could tell that their country was acting differently than it used to.
The consequences of Global Warming and Climate Change in St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- Rising sea levels. As glaciers and icecaps are melting the sea level is rising. A group of older Vincentians we met told us that the sea used to begin 100-200 feet from where it is currently at. One of them owns a house by the beach, which is barely a beach anymore. There used to be a safe distance between him and the water but today the sea was almost reaching his backdoor. He expected the water to be on level with his house within a decade. And his house is far from the only one under threat. Plenty of houses face the beach all over St. Vincent, and few people have the resources to simply buy a new house.
Coastal damage on Black Point Beach on the Windward Side of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Photo Credit: trust.org
- Changing weather patterns. The one thing that everyone we spoke with mentioned was the change in weather and seasons. Particularly an increasing unpredictability when it comes to rain. We were told that it used to be nice and simple in St. Vincent: it was sunny during the day and raining at night. Now it is no longer unusual if it is raining three days in a row, followed by four days of pure sun. This makes life quite difficult for farmers, which is the main occupation in the country. The longer and more intense rain is very hard on the crops and sometimes destroys it. Furthermore, it drains the nutrition from the soil. The droughts are now much more common and lasts longer make entire fields dry out. Few people have proper access to irrigation systems and many have limited access to water. All this puts immense pressure on commercial farmers as well as those who grow their own food.
- Erosion. Even though a lot of the rivers looked small and depleted the new bridges that cross them are built quite huge. In the last couple of years flash floods has become a common occurrence. This is in part due to deforestation that leaves massive amounts of water to run freely without much to slow down its speed. It is often a great deal of water because the pieces of lumber are not used and clog the rivers until the water breaks though. Erosion is also responsible for a lot of road damage in form of potholes and chunks debris and rocks on the road. Some places pieces of the road is falling into rivers and in other places they are taken over by the beach.
View, one of the areas earmarked for slope stabilisation works to cut disaster risk in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Photo Credit: trust.org
- Rising temperatures. The majority of people in St. Vincent & the Grenadines work as farmers or construction workers. This kind of work is very physically demanding and depends on the ability to work a lot each day. This gets much more difficult when it is so warm you have trouble even being outside. St. Vincent is already a warm climate and the further rise in temperature, which has already happened, is making a lot of physical work unbearable. Also, when air gets hotter, so does the water. This is a huge problem for the tourist industry (another big group of workers) because it makes the country a less interesting tourist destination. The warmer water destroys coral reefs so people will not go diving. It also makes way for more intrusive species, such as the poisonous lion fish. When you combine this with the fact that beaches are disappearing you are not exactly making tourists storm the island.
It is very clear that global warming has already caused a lot of damage in St. Vincent. It is sad to the people here suffer from the multiple consequences of climate change, when it is mainly happening due to the excessive burning of fossil fuels from richer, developed countries (many of them on the other side of the world). The Vincentians, however, did not seem to be hopeless. Several were already taking measures to ensure water and reduce soil erosion. There was a big correlation between how much people knew about climate change and how much they were doing about it. Getting more information out to people is, the way I see it, the first step in helping St. Vincent & the Grenadines fight global warming. After all, their sprit is far from broken. The old man who may lose his house in 10 years was still smiling when he said he would have to move.
Written by Markus Schaumburg-Müller