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Friday 14 December 2018
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TT’s enormous carbon footprint

WE MAY be a tiny dot on the world map but we have, in recent times, surpassed giant nations in our impact on the world. We are at the top of the list of countries with the highest carbon dioxide emissions per capita, second only to Qatar. For those of us not quite sure what this implies, well, carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for the growing problem of climate change.

This country’s large carbon footprint in relation to its population size is quite alarming. Carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide produced as a result of human activities and the impact this is having on the environment and climate. It is usually expressed in tonnes.

Data from the United Nations Statistics Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs lists Trinidad and Tobago as the second largest producer of carbon emissions per capita. “The carbon dioxide emission per capita is among the highest in the world… higher than most of the oil economies of the Middle East.” This is how serious our carbon footprint is as stated in a profile of this country’s greenhouse gas emissions put out by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Now, while it is true that most of the carbon dioxide emission is a result of exploration work in the energy sector, the lifestyle and activities of the average citizen also contributes significantly to a country’s level of emissions. For instance, TT generates an average of 1,150 tons of waste per day, an amount the UN report describes as “quite substantial.” Most of this waste ends up in the Beetham Landfill and the rest in the landfills at Guanapo and Forres Park. The landfill gas emitted from these sites into the atmosphere amounts to at least 350,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Electricity consumption is another source of greenhouse gas emissions. For example, an average 1,000 watt room air conditioner produces about 650kg of carbon dioxide every hour. According to a research done by UWI’s Engineering Department, as of 2011 there were over 26,500 homes with water heaters. The UN report notes that on average, the carbon dioxide emissions from these heaters exceed 150,000 tonnes each year.

And given our small population size, the levels of electricity consumed in the average household in TT when compared to larger more developed nations, is nearly obscene. In fact, the UN report states that this country’s “per capita energy consumption is almost six times the world average, and almost 30 per cent higher than that of the USA.” Cars, and our seemingly perverse obsession with them, are probably the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the average citizen. Every gallon of gasoline burned in driving a car yields nearly 20 kg of carbon dioxide. People, here, drive their cars nearly everywhere they go no matter how short the distance. We have become a bunch of lazy, gas guzzlers using our cars to travel even short distances that could be completed in ten or 15 minutes on foot.

For years scientists have warned about the damaging impact the rate of continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels is having on our planet. In recent months, this warning has become more urgent.

From rising sea levels to floods, droughts, extreme heat waves and storms, the effects of high carbon dioxide emissions are evident.

A report released last year by a panel of scientists shows that devastating effects from climate change can happen sooner rather later as originally thought. This research led by James Hansen, climate scientist of the Columbia University Earth Institute, found that, “there is an urgency to slow carbon dioxide emissions, because the longevity of the carbon in the climate system and persistence of the induced warming may lock in unavoidable, highly undesirable consequences.” We may not be able to properly cope with the global warming effects if changes are not made soon and quickly. The report led by Hansen and published by the European Geosciences Union warns that, “there is a possibility, a real danger that we will hand young people and future generations a climate system that is practically out of their control.”

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