An article in the Guardian titled, “A beloved Jamaican beach is succumbing to climate change. It won’t be the last,” blames supposed human-caused climate change for the loss of popular beaches in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean Sea. Data show climate change isn’t to blame.
“Climate change is eroding beaches all over the Caribbean,” writes the Guardian. “Intensified storm activity and increased water temperatures are helping destroy offshore coral reefs that otherwise buffer the shoreline from pounding waves.”
Yet data show that neither the number nor intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes in the North Atlantic basin have increased in recent years when compared to historical averages.
Research published in the peer-reviewed, Journal of Climate shows there has been no unusual increase in tropical cyclones and hurricanes either globally or in the North Atlantic Hurricane Basin, within which the Caribbean Sea lies, over the last 50 years. Globally the researchers found, “[t]he collective global frequency of all global hurricane landfalls and the minor and major subsets shows considerable inter-annual variability but no significant linear trend. Furthermore, when considering each basin individually during the entire time periods analyzed, it is not possible to ascertain a positive or negative trend in minor, major, or overall hurricane landfall frequency in all basins except the [Southern Hemisphere].
Although the North Atlantic Basin had experienced an active period from 1995 through 2010, the researchers reported it was due to natural factors. In particular, they found the cause to be a shift to the “positive phase of the Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation.” According to the paper, “consideration of the longer period of 1944–2010 exhibits no secular trend in hurricane landfalls (and even longer periods show no increasing trend….)”
As detailed in Climate at a Glance: Hurricanes, hurricane impacts in recent years have been at an all-time low.
For example, the United States recently went more than a decade (2005 through 2017) without a major hurricane measuring Category 3 or higher. That was the longest such period in recorded history. The United States also recently experienced the fewest number of hurricane strikes in any eight-year period (2009 through 2017) in recorded history.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also found no evidence that climate change is causing hurricanes to increase in number or intensity in recent years, writing in its interim report there is “only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences.”
Concerning the die off of coral reefs in Jamaica and their contribution to the decline in the island nation’s beeches, research indicates human activities unrelated to climate change are likely to blame.
Research published in Science Advances examined a range of possible causes, including climate change, fishing, and pollution, for the decline of two major coral reef populations in the Caribbean; elkhorn and staghorn corals. They found the coral die off began in the 1950s, before there was a large scale increase in carbon dioxide emissions or “decades before climate change impacts,” as the authors write. They conclude local human impacts like fishing, land clearing and associated sediment run-off, pesticides, and pollution have caused the corals to decline. Other research has linked Oxybenzone, a chemical found in many popular sun screen products, with coral bleaching.
Climate change never made sense as a cause of coral decline. As detailed in Climate at a Glance: Coral Reefs, corals thrive in warm water, not cold water. Indeed, research shows recent warming has allowed coral to expand their range poleward, while still continuing to thrive near the equator. Coral has existed continuously for the past 40 million years, surviving temperatures and carbon dioxide levels significantly higher than what is occurring today.
As even the Guardian acknowledged, Jamaica’s poverty has left it unable to take the kind of actions other nations have implemented to replenish their beaches and build infrastructure to reduce the impacts of naturally rising seas and hurricanes.
Many factors are undoubtedly causing the decline and erosion of some beaches in Jamaica and across the Caribbean region. Contrary to the Guardian’s claims, however, there is little if any evidence showing global warming is exacerbating the problem.