Climate change is a hot topic for so-called First World countries with several pledging to do their part to combat global warming. The Caribbean, though small and with a lower carbon footprint than most, can also do its part. Reports from the Arctic on the ice caps melting demonstrate the alarming rate at which the earth is heating up. Regardless of our size, climate change (the long-term change of the planet’s climate) will affect us just as it will the rest of the planet. Scientists are predicting an increase in tropical storms and hurricanes, in droughts, a rise in sea levels, which would impact our forests due to an increase in salinization and result in a loss of land, and an impact on coastal, freshwater and terrestrial resources. All of these will then impact tourism—our main source of revenue.
A starting point for us could be examining our use of plastic bags. Bangladesh banned plastic bags from as early as 2002. Other countries have put some form of taxation on retailers, resulting in a mandatory charge of sometimes 10 cents, which has led in some cases to a reduction of 400 million plastic bags being used. Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Botswana,Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia have complete bans on plastic bags. Closer to home, Antigua and the U.S. Virgin Islands have also banned them, while Guyana and Dominica are working on banning Styrofoam products. Some may wonder about the link between plastic bags and climate change. These bags can affect the quality of air, lead to an increase in fossil fuel emissions and ocean toxicity, and result in the destruction of animal habitats. Some studies are showing that at the current rate, come 2050 plastic bags will outweigh fish in the ocean, pound for pound.
As a nation, we can work together to do our part in helping the rest of the world reduce climate change. Our local supermarkets introduced reusable bags several years ago but without a cost applied to the use of plastic bags, trying to change the habit is close to a mission impossible. It’s not enough to have the reusable bags available—there needs to be a real-time cost to consumers for using plastic bags. It’s simple psychology: negative reinforcement, where we’re promoting positive behavior by adding a personal cost to the negative behavior. To avoid paying additional money, consumers will turn to their reusable bags.
It’s not just plastic bags. Also problematic are plastic bottles, Styrofoam containers, even Christmas trees! For a fake Christmas tree to be environmentally friendly, it has to be used for 15-20 years for it to have less of an impact on the environment than cutting a real tree. On top of the environmental factors, many of these artificial trees produce carcinogens during manufacturing and disposal because they contain PVC. Alternatives don’t have to be expensive either; buy reusable water bottles and thermoses. Canvas or reusable plastic bags for shopping are ideal; glass containers instead of the plastic variety.
Here are some facts about plastic that may change the way you think and, hopefully, the way you behave (source – www.ecowatch.com): One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans; 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies; 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away; over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century; annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide—more than one million every minute.
By Christiane Beaubrun