Monday, June 1, 2009

Prof Chen warns about warming

Jerome Ringo with Prof Chen at the US Embassy Seminar on Climate Change

Jamaica Observer | JEAN LOWRIE-CHIN | Monday, June 01, 2009

Five million dollars worth of escallion was destroyed by pests recently - a devastating blow to farmers in Flagaman, Pedro Plains and surrounding districts in St Elizabeth. "The prolonged drought period led to the death of spiders and wasps, which are some of the natural enemies of the pest," said RADA Senior Plant Specialist Marina Young in an RJR report, "which in turn triggered the infestation of the worms."

This took us back to a discussion on the environment hosted a few weeks ago by the US Embassy. UWI Professor A Anthony Chen walked us through data from the year 1000 to demonstrate the effects of global warming. Prof Chen is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change whose work earned them the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. The prize was shared with former US Vice President Al Gore.

In a subsequent discussion with the concerned professor, who last year received one of our highest national honours, the Order of Merit, he noted that nature's delicate balance is easily affected by even a slight warming of our planet. "Using research done by epidemiologists," he said, "only a 2˚C increase in atmospheric temperature will increase dengue transmission threefold."

It is when we see global warming in the context of lost crops and dangerous diseases that we realise the importance of environmental protection. Studies over the years, since the Industrial Revolution in the 1880s, show that our increasing appetite for energy has generated man-made greenhouse gases.

These gases have such an extended life that even if we stabilise emissions from power plants and factories, motor vehicles and aircraft, temperatures will continue to rise. Some of the effects right here in the Caribbean are:

. sea level rise
. spread of diseases (like
. possibly more intense hurricanes
. water resource shortfall
. agricultural drought
. tourism downturn
. death, migration of fish to cooler waters
. endangered human settlement.

At the US Embassy seminar, Melinda Brown and Delroy Anthony "Crocus" Lamont from the Rock Tower Project, Bull Bay, described how a regular shower of rain now causes widespread flooding as a result of the extensive mining of gypsum in the area. Brown, an artist from New York, has been working with local artists in the area to create items from the gypsum which will help them to generate wealth while protecting the environment. Their work received solid affirmation recently when international art collector Francesca von Hapsburg visited their studios and bought all of their work.

We also viewed a moving video on Mocho entitled Mined and Left Behind and bought an interesting book on the subject, which we will explore in a later column.
Jerome Ringo, president of the US-based Apollo Alliance and climate change expert, challenged us to take charge of our future "in the name of getting off the oil barrel". He said that we had the opportunity to declare our energy independence as Brazil had done: "You have the sun, the wind, the ocean."

The inspiring activist warned that the impact of high energy costs may drive some households "to decide whether they will purchase gas or milk". Ringo wants us to admit that "I too breathe the air . and reactivate activism."

Prof Chen has a suggestion that should inspire our legislators and encourage more of us to go solar: net metering. This is how it works: if you have alternative sources of energy like solar panels or windmills, your electricity meter would go forward or back, depending on whether you are using your power, or the power generated by the utility company. As it now stands, companies who supply power to the grid have two meters and are credited US10 cents per kilowatt, but are debited US23 cents per kilowatt for the JPS supply. Prof Chen says he knows it cannot be the exact amount, but hopes that the rates will become more equitable as an added incentive for others to consider generating their own energy.

"Net metering has been used successfully in North America and Europe," says Prof Chen. "I believe it would be a very good thing for Jamaica and the region." Think of the quantum leap we could take in energy security if such a programme were introduced by Caricom! This would be a meaningful incentive for us to finally harness the abundance of power sources we have been blessed with - sun, wind and water, with the generous bonus of saving our environment.

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