The days leading up to United Nations World Environment Day have sketched energy contrasts across North America.
In the U.S., one state’s legislators successfully stalled clean energy initiatives; further south, a Caribbean island took a global spotlight as it moves toward generating a third of its energy from renewable, and primarily the sun.
Since 1972 the United Nations’ Environmental Program has marked June 5 as Word Environment Day. The day actually concludes a year of activities related to a theme, this year being “Raise your voice, not the sea level.” The host country, Barbados, personifies the credo, as one of many small island developing nations worldwide vulnerable to rising oceans caused by climate change.
With a population of 270,000, Barbados’ vulnerability to the effects of climate change extend to agricultural impacts to the destruction of its coastal ecosystems. Changing weather patterns could negatively affect the country’s tourism industry, which contributes about 15 percent of the island’s GDP, and its sugar industry, another 2 percent
In response, the 166-square mile nation has prioritized reducing its climate impact and providing clean and renewable energy, along with opportunities for green economic growth. Barbados has set a goal of renewables providing 29 percent of all electricity consumption by 2029. Government officials estimate the shift would reduce carbon emissions by 4.5 million tons.
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According to the U.N., Barbados has been a leader in solar water heaters since the early 1970s. The country ranks among the top users of the technology globally, with installations in roughly half its dwellings. In 2002, for example, Barbados saw its 35,000 solar water systems yield $100 million in energy savings and carbon emissions reduced by 15,000 metric tons. Plans are also underway to install 19 government buildings, nine schools and hurricane shelters with solar panels.
Eight days before World Environment Day, the Ohio House of Representatives took a reverse approach to the Caribbean isle, passing SB 310 -- a bill that places a two-year freeze on green energy and efficiency standards for electricity utilities. Gov. John Kasich intends to sign the bill, which would make Ohio the first of 29 states with renewable energy goals to send reduction legislation to its governor, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
The bill largely passed through Republican support, with only six voting against it. Democrats lamented the bill’s passage, with Rep. Robert Hagan telling the Dispatch that it makes Ohio “the laughing stock of these United States.”
Highlighting the disparity among the parties, House Speaker William Batchelder, a Republican, said to the Dispatch, “I think some people really believe in this green stuff. That’s fine, but somebody’s going to have to answer to the public as this additional expense gets added on.”
For those of us who really do believe “in this green stuff,” it reaches a depth beyond preoccupations with increasing dollars and instead emphasizes the importance of clean air and healthy food. It’s a green more concerned with the planet’s continued prosperity than with “bottom line profits.”
While clean energy goes on pause in Ohio, Barbados and other island nations continue the march forward. According to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, small island developing states cumulatively contribute less than one percent of annual total global emissions.
“Small island nations share a common understanding that we need to set our planet on a sustainable path,” Ki-moon said in his World Environment Day message. “This demands the engagement of all sectors of society in all countries.”