Climate change and how it affects us
On October 8, 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body dedicated to providing the world with an objective and scientific view of climate change, issued a stark warning to us all. The planet is warming at a greater rate than expected, heading towards a temperature of 3C above preindustrial levels, rather than keeping below the 1.5C threshold that was pledged by many nations under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Scientists claim we should treat this news as a final notice about the risks of rising temperatures globally. Essentially, they point to a catastrophic environmental breakdown in just 12 years if we do not act as a global community to keep levels at no higher than 1.5C. This is an historic, unprecedented moment of reckoning for mankind. We do have the power to reverse this trend. However, failure to act would mean we are condemning the survival of ecosystems on earth, and ultimately our own self-preservation.
Climate change is finally undeniable. It is real and it is happening now. The effects are already being felt globally, but the impacts will be more highly intensified in the future. For Bermuda, some of the most immediate threats will be larger and more powerful hurricanes, rising sea levels, and the destruction of our coral reefs. The loss of our reefs will also mean we have less protection from large ocean swells and more flooding associated with storm surge, not to mention the critical impact this will have on our fisheries — and therefore our food security — and tourism product.
World scientists have maintained for years that the earth is at a critical juncture regarding the health of its ecosystems and their ability to sustain life. Humankind has upset the balance of nature in a number of ways, but most significantly through the release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, mostly from burning fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal to produce energy. Also, through deforestation, man has reduced the ability of nature to absorb or sequester the carbon dioxide and take it out of the atmosphere; hence the global warming effect.
The onset of climate change and man's significant acceleration of this process have been dismissed by politicians and lobby groups, or denied outright by the oil and gas industry. However, it is clear that this is now the new reality. Scientists have warned us of the disastrous consequences that could occur if the world community does not do something to mitigate or slow this process.
As climate change already threatens the ecosystems on which we depend for food, it is more important than ever to focus on protecting our natural resources, and also ensuring sustainable methods of using them. Protection can be achieved through the creation of nature reserves, reducing air and sea pollution, and by switching to more renewable energy generation. We need to safeguard our ocean by reducing run-off from pesticides/fertilisers and sewage, establishing better practices to protect our vital reefs and fisheries, and stopping plastic pollution of our seas — the World Economic Forum predicted that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
Sustainable practices also need to be a key focus, as mankind cannot keep extracting the earth's resources at the present rate of consumption. Earth Overshoot Day marks the date by which all of humanity has used more of our natural resources than the planet can renew in the entire year. In 2018, it fell on August 1. This means we are using the resources of 1.7 earths at present. We are using more resources than the earth can provide, largely through overfishing, cutting down our forests, and other unsustainable practices.
The world is looking for leaders in the fight against climate change and some countries have stepped up to the plate. For example, Costa Rica recently announced the whole country will be powered by renewable energy by 2021, so completely abandoning the use of fossil fuels such as oil and liquefied natural gas — or LNG. Also dozens of countries and territories have committed to banning vehicles powered by fossil fuels in the next ten to 20 years.
The global fight against the plastic pollution epidemic is also gearing up. The European Union recently made a move towards a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across their membership in an attempt to stop pollution of the oceans. Closer to Bermuda, many Caribbean countries have pledged to ban single-use plastics and styrofoam — including Dominica, Jamaica and the Bahamas. In the recent Throne Speech, our own government has just committed to eliminate single-use plastics by 2022. But there is a lot more to be done; the problem is too large and the consequences too dire to do anything less than all that we can.
The challenges seem overwhelming and we may ask ourselves what can we do here in tiny Bermuda that will have any impact on climate change? The answer is, everything. From speaking to our politicians and raising our concerns with them, to asking questions at our supermarkets and restaurants.
Is this fish sustainably sourced? How do you manage food waste? Do you have any reusable containers, and do you recycle? Every little action can and will make a difference.
We also need to show the world that we care. Small islands such as Bermuda will be the first victims of the increasing extreme weather events like hurricanes, and other adverse consequences of climate change, most notably rising sea levels. So our very home is on the front line, facing the consequences of this global environmental shift.
How can we expect the larger countries to take notice of the threat climate change poses to smaller island nations, and therefore take action, if we do not ourselves do as much as possible that is within our control to fight the causes of global warming?
As a community we can act both on a national level (influencing government policy) and on an individual level (changing our behaviour) to reduce our carbon footprint and negative impact on the environment. We need to pressure our local MPs and make them accountable for any inaction being taken on this subject.
The economy, education and the public debt are all important local issues, but this issue of climate change is an existential issue and arguably eclipses all others because it impacts the global ecosystem on which we depend to survive.
Do not forget that the greater impact will be on our children and future generations, who will inherit from us a broken earth.
So on a national level, Bermuda can do the following:
•• Focus on renewable power generation such as solar and wind, and move away from fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and LNG
•• Phase out gasoline and diesel-fuelled vehicles and transition to electric
•• Ban the use of single-use plastics such as plastic bags and cutlery
•• Make recycling mandatory for certain items such as tin and glass similar to many other countries
•• Create more marine-protected habitats to sustain our fisheries and reefs
•• Protect our remaining arable land for farming and promote locally grown produce
•• Minimise food waste at our supermarkets and restaurants
Of course, it is our own actions that are more immediate and impactful, and which can also speed up change on a national level.
This may involve changes in our everyday lifestyle choices, but they are a small sacrifice compared with the good this would do for our environment. Better health and wellbeing can also be by-products of the choices we can make.
Individually, we can do the following:
•• Buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter, and buy more locally sourced fruits and vegetables
•• Reuse and recycle tin, aluminum and glass; and compost food and horticultural waste
•• Drive electric vehicles, use public transport, or walk or cycle to work to cut down on carbon-releasing fossil fuels
•• Use a washing line instead of a tumble dryer to minimise energy use?•• Adopt a less materialistic lifestyle — our Western consumer-driven society is incredibly wasteful and a significant drain on the earth's resources. Anything shipped or flown to Bermuda has a huge environmental cost in terms of resources used and fuel burnt
Although the challenges raised to combat climate change seem insurmountable, they are not. We just need to acknowledge that we, on this tiny little island, have the power to do something very big about it, if we care. But we need to do it now.
It is a very sobering thought to accept that climate change will affect our very existence on this planet. For too long we have been sleeping behind the wheel.
The recent United Nations report should act as the final wake-up call to all of us.
• Adam Farrell is a member of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce's marine resources committee