Arctic-Caribbean links: shared inaction

Climate change comes with a high human cost: true.

That’s why an international group of non-governmental organizations, which represents small island states and the Arctic,  called  Many Strong Voices,  has lobbied for deep cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate change and its impacts in check.

But you can’t underestimate the value of people taking action, such as recycling and reusing, says Caribbean expert Lennox Honychurch.

Unfortunately, little guidance from the Indigenous knowledge, besides respect for nature and for the natural world, can be applied now on the island of Barbados, where I recently spoke with Honychurch, who is known for his studies of Amerindians in Caribbean islands.


An Amer-Indian village in the Caribbean.

That’s due to people’s expectations and demands for services, Honychurch said.

The world has changed: Once there were 2,000 people living on Barbados and resources were sufficient.

Now there’s a population of 270,000 people and 120,000 vehicles, which are stressing the small island.

In the surrounding waters, over-fishing threatens the stocks of flying fish.

As tasty as they are unusual, these fish with wings are as iconic in Barbados as narwhals are in the Arctic — but they’re now more scarce and more expensive than ever before.


A flying fish, a food stable in Barbados, is now becoming increasingly rare due to changing currents and over-fishing. (IMAGE/ WIKIPEDIA COMMONS)

Yet positive change isn’t impossible, Honychurch said.

He’s involved with a Caribbean Broadcasting Corp. television series on trees, whose goal is to raise awareness about the positive role trees play in Barbados.

You can check out “Trees: the Silent Sentinels” here on YouTube (and, for a low-budget series on the environment, you can’t find a better one.)

There are other signs of change around Barbados: A company, called  Caribbean LED Lighting, that manufactures light-emitting diode lights, aims to reduce energy consumption on the island — like the Government of Nunavut, which announced recently that it plans to install LED streetlights in Iqaluit to cut energy costs by 30 per cent.

A local recycler in Barbados also wants to teach people to reuse and recycle with the goal of establishing a privately-owned recycling business.

But the solution to today’s energy and environmental woes won’t be simple: Honychurch said places like Barbados need a “revolution” in how people act in their own lives so they become more personally responsible for these big problems.

“There’s a perception that the state looks after everything,” Honychurch said.

You can find other similarities between the Arctic and the tropics.

For example, many on Barbados also suffer from NCD’s — non-communicable diseases like high blood pressure, heart ailments, diabetes and obesity.

Crime involving firearms is common.

And, you don’t have to look far to hear stories of interpersonal violence, as well. A widely-read, and controversial, website called “Naked Departure” is devoted to tales of sexual and child abuse and other forms of violence or corruption on Barbados.

As the warmer world unfolds, regions like cold Nunavut and hot Barbados may also be linked through shared illnesses as well — like Zika, linked to microencephaly and adult paralysis, which experts believe may be spread north by sexual contact and mosquitos.


This billboard in Barbados promotes pesticides to kill mosquito larvae. (PHOTO BY L. RATINEN)

So, right now, due to the Zika virus, if you’re planning to start or add to your family, you probably wouldn’t even want to visit Barbados where there are at least — and likely more — 300 suspected and confirmed cases of Zika.

For now, this marks the end of this Arctic-Caribbean series — as I to back to looking north.

But you can read the first two parts of the Arctic-Caribbean series here:

Arctic-Caribbean links: climate change, garbage, water

Arctic-Caribbean links: erosion



Arctic-Caribbean links: erosion

A dead tree in the sand by the sea: Is this what a warmer future with higher sea levels looks like?

If so,  you can already see that on the Caribbean island of Barbados, or, for that matter, on Nunavut’s Axel Heiberg island, where 50 million years ago a forest, now fossiized once thrived.

We’ve looked at how climate change, garbage and water are now among the common concerns in Canada’s Arctic and Barbados.

But there’s yet another shared menace — erosion.

In the Arctic, erosion takes place when the permafrost melts and the land sloughs off or the coastline moves in, as in Barrow, Alaska, which is now looking at the construction of a huge seawall to keep water out of this North Slope community.

In Barbados, lack of planning has already made the erosion of its many hills and 97 kilometres of coastline even worse.


The St. Joseph parish church built in 1839, now has cracks throughout its structure due to the unstable ground it stands on, and remains closed. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

Elsewhere in the world, the desire to avoid erosion often influences municipal planners who want to protect some vulnerable lands from development.

But you don’t find that kind of zoning effort in Barbados.

Development has already changed the island’s coastlines into what a small boat captain calls a “concrete jungle” of multimillion-dollar mansions and seawalls.

But these seawalls, designed to keep the sea out, can make erosion worse. That’s because seawalls don’t provide the give and take that vegetation can provide against the constant movement of waves.


A giant seaside mansion, which has not yet found a buyer, stands next to a condominium complex, also largely unoccupied. Sea turtles used to nest on the beach there, but now, due to the seawall, which creates more wave action,  turtles can now longer lay eggs in the sand on this stretch of beach. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

A poor pensioner who lives on the coast of western Barbados on a tiny family plot next to plush mansions has a plan: He wants to save his home, which is slowly falling into the sea.


Hanging in on the coast: An old refrigerator to the right provides some protection from the waves that regularly batter this home. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)


But he doesn’t have the money to build a big wall or bring in giant boulders to protect his property. Instead, he’s filling old refrigerators with cement and sticking them on the sand in front of his house to create a seawall.

Here you can see the cement that is left where one refrigerator has rusted away.


You can see a piece of cement lying on the sand where a refrigerator has rusted away. The cement acts as a catch-all for sand and protection against the waves. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

His efforts are not likely to work — sea levels are predicted to rise by one to two metres in Barbados by the end of this century, not counting big storm surges or other unpredictable events — and even one metre of sea level rise produce between 50 and 100 metres of erosion.

Already, in Speightstown, a town on the northwestern coast of Barbados,  a line of shops, dwellings, chicken coops and gardens, which stood there in the 1960s, have disappeared into the sand and sea. Now there are just dead trees in the sand. Waves pour over them onto the sidewalk every day during high tide. No one even bothers to remove the sand. Soon the sidewalk will disappear.


You can see the remnants of trees that once grew here in soil, not sand, on the northwestern coast of Barbados. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

“The sea, she just comes in, she just comes in,” a man told me.

So you have to go to the northern part of Barbados to see how trees used to protect the land from the sea.

On Maycock’s beach, which has no road access, you can see the way Barbados used to look before its coastlines were developed. There, trees create a solid woven mesh of roots at the shore. The roots catch the sand, preventing beach erosion, and protect the soil from the waves.


Who needs concrete? At Maycock’s beach in Barbados you can see how roots create a natural wall against the sea. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

If you missed the first part of this three-part series, you can read it here.