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FRONT PORCH: Bahamas govt needs to take climate change more seriously

JUST this week, a new international study was released finding that in the coming decades increased melting of the ice shelves of Western Antarctica is “unavoidable”. It is yet another warning to the global commons and world leaders. Sea-level rise may be even greater than previously thought.

When ice shelves melt, it means that the ice behind the shelves speed up resulting in more water going into the oceans. The lead author of the report is Dr. Kaitlin Naughten of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

Dr Naughten told the BBC: “Our findings seem to increase the likelihood that [current] estimates [of sea-level rise] will be exceeded. It looks like we’ve lost control of melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.”

The BBC also reported: “Sea-level rises of around a meter may not sound much, but even these increases would put hundreds of millions of people worldwide at risk of coastal flooding…

“But researchers emphasise this is not a reason to give up. Steps taken to slow the loss of ice, through cutting greenhouse gas emissions, could be crucial in giving societies time to prepare for and adapt to rising seas.”

Professor Alberto Naveira Garabato of the University of Southampton urged: “This is a sobering piece of research. It should serve as a wakeup call. We can still save the rest of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, containing about 10 times as many meters of sea-level rise, if we learn from our past inaction and start reducing greenhouse gas emissions now.”

Most Bahamians, like many others around the world, have little understanding or urgency about climate change in general and rising sea levels in particular. Along with rising sea levels, The Bahamas is threatened by more powerful hurricanes like Hurricanes Joaquin and Dorian, turbocharged by even warmer waters.

Despite these hurricanes, which did not affect New Providence, the general population remains blithely indifferent to the threats of climate change to our low-lying archipelago.

For the bulk of our population, Dorian apparently seems like a devastating event that occurred in another country, despite it causing approximately $3.4 billion dollars in damage, and reconstruction ongoing. Worryingly, a good number of residents in Abaco are rebuilding near coastal areas.

Meanwhile, perhaps even more worrying is that the political directorate, both government and opposition have generally failed to craft medium - to long-term adaptation and resilience measures despite the constant refrain of climate change being an “existential threat”.

If the climate emergency is such a threat, why are we lagging behind in our national transition to reduce our carbon output at home while building the resilience infrastructure necessary for our survival? As with other pressing concerns, we are good at talk but continue to fail to act comprehensively and decisively.

Back in 2009, 14 years ago, mostly seemingly lost years in our domestic response to climate change, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham attended the United Nation’s 15th Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, joining other world leaders to address the global climate emergency.

At a press conference before his departure Mr. Ingraham laid out the stakes for The Bahamas, much of which bears quoting given the slow pace of change by successive governments. Of note, in 1999 The Bahamas became the eighth country to sign the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Mr Ingraham noted at his press conference: “Climate change is also a national security issue as it poses a direct and potentially devastating threat to our way of life, our territorial integrity, our economic well-being and our survival. It draws limited resources away from other national priorities including resources which should be directed towards education, health care, housing and social assistance.

“Days after becoming Prime Minister in 1992, my new Government dealt swiftly with the ravages of Hurricane Andrew in the northern and central Bahamas. In a sense, this destructive storm was a sign of the times, as the consensus of the scientific community is that such hurricanes will become more intense as global temperatures continue to rise …

“Further, coral bleaching due to increasing sea temperatures and acidification of our oceans, promises not only to threaten some aspects of our tourist industry, it also poses a threat to our marine resources, food supply and general health. Dying and dead coral will have a severe impact on our entire ecosystem, including the very land on which we live …

“Our efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change and protect our future also include the development of strategies and programmes in the areas of energy generation, including renewable energy, disaster preparedness and management, biodiversity protection, forest preservation, water and sewerage management and land use.

“These efforts also include plans to reduce emissions from electrical plants by converting to a more environmentally friendly technology and cleaner burning fuels. Introduction of renewable energy sources such as wind, waste to energy and solar that would tie into the grid are being investigated.”

Mr Ingraham continued: “With regard to land use, my administration is proud to have initiated the legislative process and public discussion that will lead to the enactment of a bold and forward looking Planning and Subdivisions Bill that will better integrate development and planning efforts while protecting the environment…

“Because we share a single vulnerable planet, that leadership must not only be local or here at home. It must also be regional and global. This is why I have joined with my fellow Caricom and Commonwealth heads of government to help forge a consensus on effective responses to climate change, including vigorous mitigation strategies for more vulnerable states such as ours.

“And this is why I will join leaders from throughout the world, in Copenhagen, to press for ‘a comprehensive, substantial and operationally binding agreement … leading towards a fully legally binding outcome no later than 2010’ to reduce carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.

He also stated: “In addition to our efforts in regional and international forums, it is also important that we become more conscious of our own actions at home and our responsibility to conserve and protect the wonderful patrimony that The Bahamas archipelago represents. We must all be stewards of God’s creation and especially our own natural heritage.”

Disturbingly, many of Mr. Ingraham’s warnings and pledges remain mostly unfulfilled by successive governments 14 years and counting.

Christina Gerhardt is an associate professor at the University of Hawaii and a permanent senior fellow at the University of California at Berkeley. In May of this year, the UK Guardian published an edited excerpt from her book, Sea Change: An Atlas of Islands in a Rising Ocean. The title of the article is: “Why rising sea levels pose existential threat to The Bahamas”.

Professor Gerhardt notes that The Bahamas archipelago is the group of islands most at risk in the Caribbean from sea level rise. She cites three reasons. First, the low elevation of our islands, most of which rest only a few feet above sea level.

Second, our islands consist of limestone, which she describes as, “the Swiss cheese of geology”. Limestone is porous and exceedingly permeable, soaking up saltwater “like a sponge”.

She notes: “As a result, when sea levels rise, the islands will be inundated not only at the shoreline from sea level rise but also from underground as water can percolate up through the porous material.”

Third, as most Bahamians know, we “have a high population density along the coastline”, and the majority of us live in urban areas, with 75 percent of Bahamians resident on a low-lying New Providence. We know that after just a downpour how quickly parts of New Providence flood.

Scores of Bahamians, including on the Family Islands, live near the coast. We are overwhelmingly a coastal nation with little high ground. Moody’s has predicted that if global temperatures increase by 3C, 67 percent of Bahamians will be directly affected.

And yet, most of us, including governments, continue on despite the warnings, which are worsening every year, with little awareness by the public and endless talk but scant action by successive governments.

Comments

ColumbusPillow 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Do tidal gauges actually show ANY SIGNIFICANT sea level rise? West Anarctica is a long way from the Bahamas!

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