Puerto Rico and Climate Change

Climate change has affected Puerto Rico in some extremely significant ways.

First, warmer ocean water temperatures fueled Hurricane Maria, bringing as much rain in one day as the Island usually sees in three months. A new study determined that the sheer quantity of rain was enough to cause landslides, flooding, and unsafe water conditions across the territory.

Maria was the largest and most destructive hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, but climate change has increased the chances of seeing more devastating storms.

Scientists also blame climate change for the collapse of insect populations in Puerto Rico’s rain forests. Since insects are food for so many other creatures, the shocking drop in numbers of insects will reverberate all along the food chain. “We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet,” said researcher Brad Lister. “It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.”

Researchers in El Yunque have returned to a long-term study of climate change which was interrupted — yet enriched by Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico turns out to offer an excellent opportunity to study the effects of these changes.

A 2017 report from the Environmental Protection Agency said that Puerto Rico’s average temperature had increased by one degree and the surrounding water had gotten two degrees hotter since 1901. One or two degrees may not sound like much, but it is enough to affect agriculture, to reduce the amount of oxygen in the waters and therefore the available fish, and to increase tropical diseases with insect vectors.

Climate change is also melting ice globally, and for Puerto Rico that means that the water is rising at the rate of one inch per decade. Again, that may not sound like much, but it is enough to increase flooding and erosion. Flooding can affect drinking water and the safety of homes and beaches.

Solutions

Puerto Rico’s Climate Change Council  has been attempting to increase awareness of the problem and to stimulate action. Unfortunately, their working groups have identified numerous continuing threats to the Island from vulnerable infrastructure and continuing climate change.

However, Puerto Rico has adopted a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. This is a bold plan. “I’m pretty sure that this will be, by leaps and bounds, the quickest transition to renewables that’s ever happened anywhere on the planet,” P.J. Wilson, president of the Solar and Energy Storage Association of Puerto Rico told Vox. “To go from [2] percent today to 40 percent by five years from now will be the biggest challenge the renewable energy industry [in Puerto Rico] has ever faced, on top of a very challenging political situation and a challenging financial situation.”

Puerto Rico’s government has presented the need to rebuild Puerto Rico as an opportunity to do it right, preparing for and limiting climate changes and its predicted effects. With disaster relief funding uncertain, the Island may not be able to take the needed action.

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