HAVANA TIMES — This past July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published its much-awaited State of the Climate report. Below is a summary of its findings:
- In 2014, greenhouse gas volumes continued to rise unchecked. The concentration of CO2 (the most significant greenhouse gas, used as reference) reached 397.2 ppm for the first time in history, coming dangerously close to the limit after which changes are non-linear and irreversible (450 ppm). Carbon dioxide is chiefly produced during the burning of fossil fuels, a process that is indispensable to industrial civilization (which is why it is so much harder to “combat” the production of CO2 than that of other gases). Greenhouse gases are the immediate cause of climate change and the destructive phenomena we will observe below.
- 2014 was the hottest year on record. The red areas on the map are those that reported temperatures above the historical average, while the blue areas were below this average.
In 2014, the average world (land and ocean) temperature was over 0.69 º C above the average for the 20th century, and that’s nothing compared to what 2015 has in store for us.
- The NOAA report clearly confirms that the global warming rate has not been reduced. The 10 hottest years on record were reported over the past ten years.
- In 2014, the sea level rose by some 3.2 millimeters. This rate (which has been constant since 2000), is twice what was measured in the 20th century.
- The arctic ice cap is thinner than ever before. The loss to theAntarctic cap, on the other hand, was greater than ever. Glaciers have been quickly receding for the past 31 years.
- In 2014, the number of high-intensity tropical storms increased to 9 percent above average.
This is highly alarming data that ought to paralyze the entire planet – but no, we can’t stop, the inertia is far too great, and we keep going, as though nothing were happening. During a recent interview for IPS, Michel Jarraud, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization, confirmed the following information:
- The limits that industrialized countries have imposed on themselves do not suffice to keep the temperature from rising two degrees Celsius, the limit as of which climate change will become non-linear and irreversible.
- Precipitation and floods have increased in places where rainfall is already abundant, and there will be more drought and heat waves in places that already endure these phenomena.
- Tropical cyclones and high-intensity typhoons will cause setbacks to development in countries lashed by these phenomena.
- Islands will be particularly affected by rises in sea level.
- The scientific community is nearly unanimous on this point: the climate change that is leading the planet to catastrophe is caused by humans.
Climate change risks menace us from all sides. As an island, we will be hit by the rise in sea level. We are on the path of hurricanes (and buildings in the capital are in very bad shape). Rising temperatures and droughts have put agriculture in check and dangerously increase our food dependence.
Let’s look at some concrete data, to show that we aren’t talking about the distant future, but about the present.
The number of intense tropical storms has increased over the past six years.
This summer has been thus far the hottest ever reported. Since January (and with the exception of February), the average temperature (high and low) has been over the historical average. April saw a heat wave that broke several records, and July was even worse.
This is not a strange and unexpected phenomenon, but the continuation of a process that started several decades ago – and everything seems to indicate it will continue to get worse.
Today, Cuba suffers from severe droughts. From January to June this year, rainfall didn’t even reach 70 % of the historical average and water reserves are at less than 40 % their capacity. Considering the data collected since July of 2014, extreme drought affects 22 % of the country and nearly 75 % suffers the consequences of this to some extent.
Isolated droughts are alleviated by opportune tropical storms, but chronic drought stemming from climate change is not. The situation has been worsening for decades, as a recent study conducted in Cuba (“Climate Change and Rainfall”), where the graph below was taken, reveals.
What Is To Be Done?
“Our dinner plate is where healthy oxen are found. Out in the countryside, what we need is a good fleet of tractors.” – Economist Juan Triana (from the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy) said during a conference aimed at scientific researchers.
Faced with this situation (which will become more complicated as fossil fuels are used up), there are two paths one can follow:
- The one preferred by those who control the country and applauded by the economists who work for them involves racing forward: getting more deeply in debt, betting on tourism, development, technology and the rapid re-establishment of the capitalist economy.
- The other, the one more people not eager to see development are taking, without setting out to do so, involves learning to decorously lead a humble life centered on the community and a return to traditional knowledge and practices once used to solve our problems.
When capitalism was stronger than ever, the older of the Castro siblings bet on its downfall and ended up dragging the country down into the Special Period. Now that capitalism is limping, the younger of the Castro siblings bets on its rejuvenation and will drag us down to another crisis, of the kind we will likely not come out of.
The “interesting” thing here is that, even though the Party-State-government expresses optimism about the future (confusing those who rely on them to become informed), it’s likely they do know what’s coming and have a plan B up their sleeves.
One of my fears is that the Stalinists in power will take advantage of the crisis to reinstate those “happy” days when the country was organized like a farm and military unit. The Cold War ended more than two decades ago, but the majority of Cuban males are still classified as mandatory reservists for the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).
The FAR mobilizes us to military units whenever and for as long as it deems it convenient. The last great mobilization was organized when Fidel Castro fell ill, less than a decade ago.
I don’t believe it’s a well-thought-out plan, but this communicative “strategy” of not warning people and making them believe we’re “on the right track” is the perfect way of guaranteeing that the said Plan B (which we could call the “Return to Discipline” plan) won’t have any competition.
- Figures 6, 7a and 7b were taking from the book Energia y Cambio Climatico, published by Academia in 2011. Authors: Mario A. Arrastia Ávila and Miriam E. Limia Martinez.
- Figures 8ª and 8b were taken from reports published by the Higher Meteorology Institute.