Op-Ed: Global warming is the biggest security threat for Puerto Rico
I’m sure that many folks reading this publication might consider that my headline is just an utter exaggeration.
Nonetheless, as the COVID19 pandemic ravages the globe and the specter of another drought in Puerto Rico starts to worry an already distressed populace, my assertion seems to be not all that absurd. We can’t forget that in 36 months we have endured the historically strong Hurricane Maria, multiple earthquakes, several sporadic flooding incidents, and the effects of coastal erosion that seem to be luring their ugly head near “El Último Trolley.” Ah, and don’t forget those wonderful temperatures in the 100 degrees Fahrenheit that have just started.
But again, my contention is supported by the US Intelligence Community, and the scientific evidence is out there. A 2016 memorandum titled “Implications for US National Security of Anticipated Climate Change,” prepared by the National Intelligence Council summarized that:
Long-term changes in climate will produce more extreme weather events and put greater stress on critical Earth systems like oceans, freshwater, and biodiversity. These in turn will almost certainly have significant effects, both direct and indirect, across social, economic, political, and security realms during the next 20 years. These effects will be all the more pronounced as people continue to concentrate in climate-vulnerable locations, such as coastal areas, water-stressed regions, and ever-growing cities.
The aforementioned memo then goes on to indicate that the results of climate change could pose problems through the following pathways:
- Threats to the stability of countries.
- Heightened social and political tensions.
- Adverse effects on food prices and availability.
- Increased risks to human health.
- Negative impacts on investments and economic competitiveness.
- Potential climate discontinuities and secondary surprises.
Even the Federal Reserve is reiterating the call for policymakers to take climate change seriously and seek collective measures to push back on its catastrophic effects. And we should emphasize the word “collective,” since no country or government alone can handle what Fareed Zakaria has coined as “series of cascading crises” that will change our sense of normal life.
With such perspective, crafting climate friendly priorities and policies in Puerto Rico have to be centered in a sustainable framework, centered on what I call a “Island Security Paradigm.” This paradigm is centered on the overlooked and obvious fact that, as an archipelago, we have to anticipate that in any crisis we have to fend for ourselves. Like mariners, we have to be prepared to survive with help slow to arrive. Consequently, we have to adopt ourselves how to plan, prepare and mitigate for the next incident, disaster or crisis.
All policies and priorities that address the effects of climate change should consider the adoption of an environmental entrepreneurship approach which can address both ecological and economic development needs.
Although, I don’t claim any expertise in the topic, my research for this article leads me to suggest the following ideas:
Convert trash into biofuel – Trash management is the most pressing problem in the island, which drains nearly 90% of every municipal government’s yearly budget. This is being done by two US companies Velocys and Fulcrum Bioenergy. Maybe we should contact them.
Adopt a E85 fuel standard – According to the EPA, significant reductions on greenhouse gases can be reached with E85. This is a blend of gasoline and denatured ethanol containing up to 85 percent ethanol and is the highest ethanol fuel blend available in the market. E85 can only be used in flex fuel vehicles (FFVs). By the way, Puerto Rico is an alcohol producing powerhouse (including Ron caña). Considering that the Brent is expected to average $34 a barrel….we can definitely do this…
Foster purchases of hybrid and electric cars – This is easy, eliminate the state tax on these types of vehicles. Period. And the let the free market do its thing…
Massively adopt solar energy – Of course adoption of solar in homes can be increased through creative incentives and staying away from the ignominious “Sun Tax” sought by PREPA. Furthermore, clear renewable energy can be made available to poor rural communities in the island. USDA can help.
There are plenty of suggestions, considering that the technologies and the strategies are out there. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The renewable energy market can create jobs.
Whether you like it, or not, scientific evidence is solid regarding the near future consequences of climate change. What I hope with this essay is to enter a conversation that must be retaken after enduring this COVID19 crisis. Focusing on climate change is an intelligent means to tackle Puerto Rico’s most pressing health, social, and economic challenges.
Definitely, we have not learned that lesson yet in Puerto Rico, and with this pandemic it is appearing in our faces with a deadly reminder. Our collective security is conditioned on taking measures and prioritizing our needs. We just have to have the determination to make it happen.