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Climate change: real action must be taken now

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If Bermuda does not prepare for the local effects of a warming world, then the repercussions could be stark. Far from being a harbinger of doom, it is my hope that adopting a proactive approach can help Bermuda’s already economically and environmentally vulnerable society thrive over the next generation and beyond — even in the face of global climate crisis.

David Chapman, PhD holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine and Environmental Science, a Master’s degree in Environmental Diagnosis and Management, and a PhD that focused on the role of renewable energy towards sustainable development for small-island states

Let’s be direct and clear. The information coming out of global environmental bodies in the run-up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow does not paint a positive outlook. For example, the United Nations Environmental Programme 2021 Emissions Gap report makes it clear that, at this moment in time, national plans by major governmental powers across the world to cut carbon do not meet what climate experts say is needed to prevent dangerous climate change.

The report asserts that based on the emissions cuts promised by nations globally, temperature rises will not be able to be kept under 1.5C this century and that our climate may see warming up to 2.7C, which would have significantly harmful impacts on all aspects of global life as we know it. This paints a bleak outlook for Bermudians of the coming generations; that is, those who are below 20 years of age now and, of course, for their children, despite it being the actions of the previous generations that would have caused the conditions leading to this grim reality.

Recognising this, Bermuda needs to adopt an immediate long-term plan of action that is well organised, non-partisan and, most important, well funded — a plan of action that mirrors the scale and commitment that we have seen put in place locally over the past two years because of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Such a plan of action may necessitate the incorporation of a climate tsar or independent government body akin to the Bermuda Tourism Authority, but whatever the approach, the critical consideration is that concrete and measurable actions are taken posthaste.

Key priorities of such a programme will be the need to look at what are the passive and active practical strategies that can be put in place to mitigate against the impacts of a warming world on a local level. A focus on the local scale is paradigm as the reality is that no matter what Bermuda may do from a physical perspective of reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint in general, it will have no significant impact on the global emissions that are behind global climate change and, of course, the predicted warming that climate scientists state our world is faced with.

Such passive strategies should include a national commitment to decreasing the amount of asphalt and concrete surfaces, both which have a proven urban heat island effect that will be exacerbated by rises in local temperature. A commitment to the use of natural, less heat-retentive surfaces such as grass would be the obvious countermeasure to this and this also includes a national commitment to the planting of more vital shade-producing trees, particularly in those areas of the island that are most vulnerable to the urban heat island effect.

Worrying sight: powerful waves created by Hurricane Teddy in September 2020. A higher frequency of hurricanes is a regular occurrence because of climate change, with rising sea levels another factor that could cause serious problems for Bermuda in the future (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The effects of global warming are not limited to heating effects alone, with a rise of extreme weather events also being a phenomenon associated with global climate change. For Bermuda, this means potential periods of extremely low rainfall while at other times extended periods of high rainfall and, of course, the threat of more frequent and more powerful hurricanes.

Attention to detail on where our water can come from during extended dry periods as well as how effective our existing landforms are at draining water during times of heavy rainfall also go hand and glove with our warming world preparations. Rather than being a piecemeal approach, it is essential that any efforts such as these are embedded within the national frameworks that govern the development of the island; ie, the various governmental departments should have climate change-sensitive policies as integrated best practice with an ongoing, market-driven environment encouraged by the government that is conducive and promotional to local-specific research on additional improvements to both materials, structures and building techniques used on island.

Another important aspect is an increase in the Government’s commitment to the evolution of Bermuda’s power-production paradigm from a fossil-fuel driven one to one based on renewable energy, in particular solar PV. This will help Bermuda commit to what is already a shamefully large carbon footprint, particularly when the island’s population and physical size are considered.

The use of renewable energy is needed so that our power-hungry society can be sustained, but in way that is less greenhouse gas-emitting and can then in turn increasingly welcome carbon footprint-reducing technologies such as electric vehicles across society. Additionally, in the face of a warming world with normally cool autumn and winter seasons remaining warm and already hot summers potentially becoming dangerously hot, the need for energy-hungry active cooling technologies such as air conditioning can also be used guilt-free.

Modern technology need not be the only direction turned to for solutions, as we know often the old ways are the best ways, and passive cooling technologies such as ceiling fans and structural measures such as vertical slat blinds are cheap but extremely effective methods for cooling spaces.

As an incredibly modern and well-developed society that historically has been proven to often punch well above its size when measured against its peers internationally, Bermuda and its successive governments are well known to lack no ability to produce lavish and often well-meaning reports on every aspect of daily life. With an incredibly professional and well-qualified Civil Service, this is no surprise. For example, a review of the 2018 Bermuda Plan does mention “climate change” on several occasions, but not with any real detail or indication of specific and measurable plans of actions.

Both the scale and potential impacts from climate change faced by present and future generations necessitate that this issue be prioritised above many other matters on the radar of our government, and that a practical, action-based approach be adopted beyond anything done in the past. Numerous studies have shown that it is the most vulnerable in society — the seniors, the poor and those with pre-existing medical considerations — that will stand to fare worst when faced with the on-the-ground impacts of climate change; the very people that can often do the least to change their situations in some way that would allow them to cope better.

We need to act now, all of us, but particularly those whose decisions hold the most weight in bringing concrete change to our shores. That is, those who hold the purse strings and who pass the laws that govern our society.

David Chapman, PhD holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine and Environmental Science, a Master's degree in Environmental Diagnosis and Management, and a PhD that focused on the role of renewable energy towards sustainable development for small-island states

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Published October 28, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated October 27, 2021 at 6:12 pm)

Climate change: real action must be taken now

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