“Climate change does not respect borders; it does not respect who you are — rich and poor, small and big. Therefore, this is what we call ‘global challenges’, which require global solidarity.” — Ban Ki-moon
Despite objections to the contrary, our climate is changing. Some will maintain that that is not new; the climate has always changed, so what’s all the hullabaloo about?
Scientific evidence has emerged that we are living in a new reality and that if Homo sapiens remain nonchalant and fail to act quickly to contain the destructive effects of climate change, this reality could present an existential threat to billions of people on our planet.
Some recent revelations suggest that the detrimental effects of climate change could be more imminent and potentially more impactful than previously expected and, hence, the need to urgently address and hopefully reverse, this looming crisis.
Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this — do the effects of climate change pose a threat to human existence in The Bahamas?
Understanding climate change
The climate on our planet has always changed naturally. However, in everyday conversation on this subject, we are recognizing that the climate is changing at a more rapid pace than it used to throughout the planet’s history.
The Australian government Department of the Environment and Energy recently published a paper on “Understanding Climate Change” in which it observed: “Our climate is changing. Observed changes over the 20th century include increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, rising global sea levels, long-term sustained widespread reduction of snow and ice cover and changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation and regional weather patterns, which influence seasonal rainfall conditions.
“These changes are caused by extra heat in the climate system due to the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The additional greenhouse gases are primarily input by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), agriculture and land clearing.
“These activities increase the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The pattern of observed changes in the climate system is consistent with an increased greenhouse effect. Other climatic influences like volcanoes, the sun and natural variability cannot alone explain the timing and extent of the observed changes.
“The science behind climate change is supported by extensive scientific research performed and reported across the world. Past and present climate information is collected from observations and measurements of our environment, including trapped air in ice from thousands of years ago. Climate models are used to understand the causes of climate change and to project changes into the future.
“Many of the impacts of climate change pose risks to human and natural systems, in the form of more frequent and severe heat waves, coastal inundation due to sea level rise, disruptions to rainfall patterns and other effects.
“Analyses of a range of climate scenarios indicate the most severe risks of climate change can largely be mitigated if carbon dioxide emissions are reduced to the point where carbon dioxide is no longer accumulating in the atmosphere.
“Therefore, we now realize that human activity is the primary cause for the rapid pace of global warming, which is increasingly and irrevocably contributing to climate change, and that the contributing human factors are the emission of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane.”
The effects of global warming
Undoubtedly, there will be dramatic effects on the planet that will result from global warming. First, the planet will become warmer.
Secondly, warmer conditions will lead to more evaporation and precipitation overall. However, the extent of this effect can vary: some regions will become wetter, and others will become dryer.
Third, as the earth heats up, oceans will become warmer, which will adversely affect sea life, including corals and reefs.
Also, the warming ocean will melt glaciers and other ice structures, which will have an increase in sea levels. We should also note that, as the ocean water heats, it also expands, further contributing to a rise in sea levels.
The Climate Central study
On October 29, 2019, Climate Central, a non-profit organization that reports on climate science news, published in Nature Communications about the likely impact of rising sea levels worldwide.
The Climate Central study noted, “Over the course of the 21st Century, global sea levels are projected to rise between about two and seven feet and possibly more.
The key variables will be how much warming pollution humanity dumps into the atmosphere and how quickly the land-based ice sheets in Greenland and especially Antarctica destabilize.”
According to Climate Central, “By 2050, sea level rise will push average annual coastal floods higher than land now home to 300 million people. And high tide lines could permanently rise above land occupied by some 150 million, including 30 million in China. Without augmented or new coastal defenses, populations in these areas may face regular flooding or permanent inundation within 30 years.”
Climate Central findings were from individual assessments of 135 countries, including The Bahamas, across multiple climate scenarios and years. (See https://www.climatecentral.org/research)
The impact for The Bahamas
Could it be that The Bahamas received a forewarning of the potentially disastrous effects of global warming from Hurricane Dorian’s recent visit to the northern Bahamas?
As a result of that hurricane, extensive areas of Abaco and Grand Bahama were flooded for many days. The destruction caused by that hurricane, along with the extensive flooding, was epic.
It is highly instructive to review the Surging Seas Risk Zone Maps for some of the islands of The Bahamas that were appended to Climate Central’s study.
A review of New Providence island, where the capital city of Nassau is situated, is both revealing and alarming.
With a five-foot water level increase, the projected map depicts extensive flooding in major population centers of the island.
The projection map also suggests considerable flooding over the runways at Lynden Pindling International Airport and substantial portions of Coral Harbour, along with large swaths of the southern part of the island.
A similar review of the projected map of Grand Bahama and other Bahamian islands is equally concerning and alarming.
Every Bahamian should review the Climate Central study to better understand and appreciate what possibly lies ahead of us and how we will all be affected.
Many who are reading this column might dismiss the individual impact to us by the year 2050 or 2100 because it is unlikely that we will be here to witness this cataclysmic event.
However, we should be sufficiently motivated to do what we can now to ensure that future generations of Bahamians do not meet this cataclysm and wonder why their forebears did nothing to avert or mitigate it.
We should not lose sight of the fact that our islands are comprised of highly porous limestone.
It does not necessarily require an inundation by the seas that surround all our islands to cause flooding only along the coastlines.
With this kind of limestone acting like a sponge, those who live in the middle of our islands can also see water flooding their roads and yards, forced up through the porous rock.
We can see today what adverse impact the islands of New Providence, Grand Bahama and Eleuthera experienced this weekend with the tidal surges that affected those islands.
This Climate Central study should be a wake-up call for all of us who inhabit planet Earth, especially those of us who live on fragile landmasses surrounded by the sea.
It is important for the human species to urgently develop an action plan that addresses this potentially impactful and devastatingly catastrophic change that could spell the end for our way of life.
There is a clear and present danger that confronts all humans who occupy this planet. Denial of climate change and global warming and the potentially disastrous effects resulting from them is nothing short of gross negligence.
Mother Earth has given us ample and diverse warnings about the inevitably disastrous price that we will all pay for neglecting to cherish and protect our environment.
The movie “Waterworld” is a poignant and haunting example of what awaits us if we fail to heed the warning signs that Mother Nature has continued to provide us.
Because, to quote an old Bahamian saying, “If we don’t listen, we will feel.”
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.