Environment

Historical data key to tackling current climate challenges

Luke Douglas

Wednesday, August 29, 2012    

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AN environmental scientist out of the United States, who has studied changes in climate dating back 1,000 years, has said mistakes of the past can be avoided by examining how earlier societies dealt with changes in weather.

"When we know more about what climate has done in the past, we can know more about disaster studies, which is very significant. We can avoid the mistakes people make when they are going in [to an affected area] with disaster relief," said Sherry Johnson, a professor in the Department of History at Florida International University.

She was speaking at the 50-50 Conference put on by the University of the West Indies' Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston last week.

The environmental historian noted that much can be learnt from studying extreme weather patterns of the past, and how societies reacted to them.

"We are no warmer than we were in 1,000, but we have to think about how we can divert disaster based on what we don't want to do, such as deforestation," said Johnson, who has looked at weather patterns up to the 20th century and how they may have influenced events, including wars.

Climate change is one of the major challenges facing Jamaica and the Caribbean. Among the threats of climate change are frequent and/or more intense hurricanes and/or droughts; warmer global temperatures and rising sea levels.

Jamaica and other islands of the Caribbean have had to respond. As part of that response, Jamaica recently became the first Caribbean country to draw down on the Adaptation Fund.

The island is to be provided with almost US$10 million from the fund after its proposal for a programme to help Trelawny and six other parishes deal with climate change impacts won the Adaptation Fund Board's approval.

Islands such as Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada, for their part, are exploring the possibility of debt forgiveness for climate change adaptation funding. The proposed global approach for providing debt relief to small island developing states is a multi-year commitment of roughly US$500 million to US$1 billion of commercial and/or bilateral debt for climate adaptation in marine ecosystems swaps over a 20-year period.

Meanwhile, Johnson said changes in climate and weather have for a long time impacted the social and economic life of humans. Around 1400, for example, the earth became much cooler — a period known as the Little Ice Age — but became warmer in the 1750s, coinciding with the age of revolution, a period in which the American, French and Haitian revolutions all took place as well as the industrial revolution in Europe and America.

She added that in 1772, some 16 storms made landfall in the Caribbean, prompting British islands in the region to turn to the 13 British colonies in America for food which "gave them [the colonies] the idea that they could become independent from Britain" in 1776.

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