Leading US conservationist Larry Schweiger, president of Virginia-based National Wildlife Federation visited Bermuda as a special guest speaker at the Bermuda Environmental Alliance’s ‘Latin Night for Planet Earth’ gala last Friday.
Mr Schweiger spoke about climate change and the impact it is likely to have on low-lying land and islands, such as Bermuda, and pointed to ways that the Island can be a ‘clean energy’ model for the world.
Here is a shortened version of Mr Schweiger’s speech:
We need to look north to see our future.
The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on earth. It has warmed more than twice as fast as the global average in the past fifty years. The Arctic has lost 20 percent more summer ice in 2012 than it did in the record-setting year 2007. We could see the complete loss of summer ice by the end of this decade. Dark open water or barren ice-free Arctic lands increase the amount of solar radiation absorbed and further speed the melting process.
Nearly the size of continental United States, Arctic ice is vital for temperature regulation in the Arctic region as it bounces about 90 percent of the sun’s energy as albedo. Open water absorbs 80 percent of the energy thus changing a giant reflector into a massive energy absorbing system. As the Arctic region warms, it thaws the nearby tundra and releases carbon dioxide and methane.
Open water is an important threat because it will heat deep Arctic waters that release methane and spawn the decay of nearby Arctic tundra that has the potential to triple the carbon in the sky through rapid decomposition of the organic matter. As permafrost soils decompose they release massive amounts CO2. Warm Arctic waters and warming thermokarst lakes and ponds also releases large quantities of extremely potent greenhouse-gas methane that further accelerate climate change, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas.
As the Arctic warms, Greenland warms and becomes the source of enormous amounts of runoff. It is an island covered by two-mile thick ice that is being impacted by Arctic warming. During 2011, Greenland dumped 100 billion tons of ice and water into the ocean. In 2007 the worst year on record, about 40 percent of the Greenland surface was experiencing melt. This past summer about 97 percent of the island was experiencing melt. The total volume of water released in 2012 is not yet available but it’s increasingly clear that the Greenland ice sheet may soon pass a point of no return as the Arctic ice disappears.
What happens in Greenland will not stay in Greenland. Added to the expansion-driven sea-level rise caused by warming waters, sea level rise from melting glaciers and Greenland is a rapidly approaching reality for islands, coastal communities and mega-delta regions of the world. Worldwide, a one-metre rise in sea level will displace 100 million people.
Warming ocean waters also produce more atmospheric moisture and breed fewer but bigger hurricanes. Powerful climatological shifts caused by an overheated Arctic will have unpredictable but certainly far-reaching consequences to Bermuda and other low-lying regions of the world.
We are already experiencing strong signals that climate change is happening now. Forest fires happen four times as often in the US and burn six times more acres. Massive droughts have been affecting critically important agricultural lands. Mega storms worldwide are increasing damages by about one percent per year. All these climate-driven trends added together signal a challenging future for us all.
Since the island of Bermuda is experiencing sea-level rise three times the world average rates and since it is in the path of hurricanes that are expected to become stronger and stronger, Bermuda should be the model for clean energy for the world. Working together we can decarbonise our energy supplies and avoid the worst.
This is doable. Since electric energy production in Bermuda is primarily produced by expensive imported oil, I believe Bermuda can create an efficient, clean energy path at equal or less cost than consumers are currently paying for electricity. Solar panel prices for example, have declined by 50 percent last year and LED lights and other efficiency measures can dramatically cut energy demand and save money.
We need to have unprecedented international cooperation to move away from carbon emitting fossil fuels to advanced efficiency measures and spawn serious investments in clean energy sources such as solar, wind, wave and current energy. More