By Mark Yokoyama
There are huge challenges in this world. It is easy to get overwhelmed by them. St. Martin is a small place. We can make choices, but we can’t solve the big problems. St. Martin can’t stop the burning of the Amazon rainforest, lower global greenhouse gas emissions or create a vaccine for coronavirus. Some problems like the great Pacific garbage patch or huge forest fires are distant. Some are almost invisible, like the mass extinction of plants and animals.
Climate change is both a global problem and a local one on St. Martin. The islands of the Caribbean create less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions. They can go green and lead by example, but they can’t change the world. St. Martin can’t fix global warming.
At the same time, St. Martin is more impacted by climate change than most places. These changes are already happening and they are easy to notice. Models predict tropical storms will be more frequent and more severe. They also predict our area will become drier, and we have had unusually dry weather every year since 2014. We think climate change is one of the factors bringing huge amounts of sargassum algae to the Caribbean in the last decade.
Many things cascade from these big changes. Hurricanes threaten human life, tourism and nature. Droughts hurt farmers, livestock and wildlife. Sargassum is a nightmare for beach tourism. It can also hurt marine life and fishing.
St. Martin can’t stop climate change; but local action can change the future on the island. Building for stronger hurricanes can make people safer. Mangroves and coral reefs also protect people from storm surge. Diverse native forests can help wildlife survive droughts. These actions all benefit people, nature and the economy over the long term.
Learning from the past is a key part of local action. People on St. Martin learned how to build homes that could survive storms. Farmers timed their crops with the wet and dry seasons. People fished the ponds when the seas were too rough.
In the past, people spent more time outside. They interacted with nature. They depended on their knowledge of the island. A hundred years ago, no one would have been surprised by rain in November or dry hills in April.
St. Martin can’t change the atmosphere, but it can change its own destiny. Learning from elders is a first step. They can help us see what has already changed. We can save their hard-earned wisdom before it disappears. They survived many similar challenges. What they learned can help us improve the future.
Photo: Nationaal Archief