Dear Editor: Can we afford to continue ignoring global warming?

EPL Properties Ltd

“Arguments in favour of aggressively mitigating global warming, while supported by the hard data of climate science, is usually co-opted in favour of maintaining economic vitality due to global dependence on hydrocarbon energy sources.

“[…] Just this year, countries in Europe and the US saw massive heat waves and wildfires which put 2018 as one of the hottest years on record. Global warming left unchecked is the road that leads to uncontrollable destruction.”

In the following Letter to the Editor, Alana Abdool urges Trinidad and Tobago to pay attention to global warming:

Photo: An artistic interpretation of global warming.

“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.” George Orwell

If you’re a stickler for objective truth you’ve probably noticed the growing incidence of touting convenient partial truths. But even the search for objective truth is limited by perspective and the narrower the perspective, the further away you move from the truth.

The recent decision to shut down the Pointe-à-Pierre Petrotrin oil refinery brought to light the inconvenient partial truths that often arise when performing an analysis of industry value chains that are not always apparent to the public eye under normal conditions.

While these partial truths, when taken in the context of industry value chains, are never solely responsible for the sad state-of-affairs, it is important to note that these chains do not operate in a vacuous ideal and are often part and parcel of larger value chains.

Mother Nature, like the oil industry, has her own value chains. Her ecosystems are beautifully synchronised to function harmoniously with their environments, maintaining a delicate equilibrium of resource distribution and movement of energy. When we invade and disrupt the functioning of Mother Nature’s value chains the repercussions can be seen in the recent, and again repeated, massive flooding events.

If an analysis had to be performed of our impact on natural value chains the imperative would be clear that we would have to look far outside of our own little twin-island niche and far forward in time; a scale and scope that we cannot seem to contextualise well enough to effectively manage our own resources, far less to consider our global impact and future.

Photo: A submerged car during flooding in Trinidad.

A core theme in the larger natural value chains and in its dependent oil industry value chains is global warming, itself aptly described as a most overlooked truth in the award-winning documentary by Al Gore Global Warming: An Inconvenient Truth.

While global warming occurs naturally, it is one of the phenomena that accelerates due to anthropogenic emissions, such as those released from the refining and combustion of fossil fuels, and therefore a key indicator of climate change sensitivity.

Based on our prevailing attitudes to the treatment of natural value chains it can be concluded that we have next to no interest in any convenient or inconvenient partial truths that may arise from an assessment of them.

However, as every resource we depend on is in turn dependent on Mother Nature’s value chains, unless we want to feel both the fall out of a volatile fossil fuel future and loss of property and life due to natural disasters, we need to start reconsidering what we invest in.

While climate change sensitivity due to human activities can be inferred by an increase in the frequency, duration and intensity of climatic catastrophes such as droughts, hurricanes, flooding and heat waves, it is the extent of the impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on global warming that is debated in the media with opinions often skewed along political or party lines.

Arguments in favour of aggressively mitigating global warming, while supported by the hard data of climate science, is usually co-opted in favour of maintaining economic vitality due to global dependence on hydrocarbon energy sources.

Photo: A factory pollutes the environment.
(Copyright CNBC)

The hard science of global warming was settled 30 years ago. In heart wrenching detail, photographer George Steinmetz and journalist Nathaniel Rich recently chronicled the politicisation of global warming in a special NY Times magazine feature, “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change”, against the backdrop of some of the most devastating images of the effect of climate change.

Just this year, countries in Europe and the US saw massive heat waves and wildfires which put 2018 as one of the hottest years on record. Global warming left unchecked is the road that leads to uncontrollable destruction. If, in our nation, it is so easy when dealing with the shutdown of a state-owned oil refinery to be so beguiled by the “spin” of convenient and inconvenient partials presented, then we are well on our way down that path of destruction.

Our wake-up call is to regain sight of the bigger picture; if we were ever, at all, interested in it. And if you are, it is critical to understand the power of the phenomenon of global warming. It is important to focus on the inconvenient partial truths that our vulnerable and resource wealthy nation plays in the global politics of global warming.

Global warming affects us all. It, like the need for world peace—and unlike religion—is a common theme that could unite the world in action for the good of humanity’s collective future. Addressing global warming could also put a damper on the free and unrestrained use of hydrocarbon energy sources to do a lot more than just maintain economic vitality.

The politics of addressing global warming is ‘pendulumic’, swinging between the entangled and conflicting interests of developed and developing, vulnerable and resilient nation states. Or if you prefer to think about the more inconvenient partial truth that is almost never presented in traditional media coverage on the issue, between the interests of the power-hungry and the disempowered.

Photo: The presumed effect of global warming.

When considering the problem of global warming at international conventions on climate change countries are viewed by developed nation status, i.e., how well they are positioned economically to invest in and deal with climate change, and in terms of their vulnerability, i.e., how negatively they will be impacted by climate change.

While these are the first and prevailing factors that are considered, I also look at how well and in what way countries take action to mitigate the effects of global warming. Interestingly enough, we are very well positioned to invest in aggressive climate change measures and we are also highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Logic should dictate that this would have been a top priority, especially when oil prices were higher.

As a nation, we need to learn that the key to understanding our position in the politics of fossil fuel production lies in dealing with the more inconvenient partials and the most inconvenient truth of global warming.

We need to shift our focus to the larger value chains, establish a thorough understanding of our dependence on them for our resources and understand how easy it is in the playing field of global politics to manipulate our perspective on their importance. And if we are true in this search it will quickly become obvious how terrifying it is to be both power-hungry and disempowered.

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