November 28, 2020

Climate change could change Cayman

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Every year an “old chestnut” rises up from the waters of time …… “sea levels are getting higher and this could spell doom for the Cayman Islands.” I have lived here for thirty years and I heard this gloomy prediction the very first week of my arrival. Maybe it was in the hope of sending me packing but it didn’t work as I am still here.

It didn’t worry me then but should it worry me (and all of us) now? I hadn’t heard much about global warming then but over the last ten years it is on the news nearly every week. And is it global warming that is causing climate change? Is climate change really a problem? Is it due to a natural cycle of the earth rather than the result of us humans polluting the atmosphere? Is the sea really rising and if it is will it be a problem for us here?

Questions and what are the answers? In a 2011 survey conducted by Barry Stevens, PhD. through 50 Linkedin Groups (80% Energy related and 66% responses) a 49% felt “Climate Change” is a problem that requires immediate remediation by each individual country, independent of a worldwide accord.  However, nearly forty (40%) percent of respondents felt that “Climate Change” is possibly not a problem and no action is required within the next 10 years. As to who is causing it? The latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes clear that warm weather extremes and heavy precipitation events have increased, most likely as a result of manmade climate change. And it projects with a high degree of confidence increasing hot weather and heavy downpours in the future. Just recently, The Berkeley Earth Study, confirmed what most climate scientists already knew – the surface temperature data is correct in showing a pronounced warming trend. To be specific, the analysis found there has been 0.911 degrees Celsius of land warming (+/- 0.042 C) since the 1950s, or about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Is the sea level rising? Yes it is. ScienceDaily in 2009 announced new research was indicating a rise in ocean levels in the next 100 years to a metre (3.28 inches) higher than the current sea level.

Should we be worrying about this now? In an article appearing in Island Offsets (a website “with a vision to save the world right here at home in the Cayman Islands” it states that the Cayman Islands are “likely to be seriously affected by sea level rise as they are low-lying with an average height above sea level of just seven feet” and “forecast increases in the intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms will cause higher associated storm surges, worsening the effects of sea level rise leading to increased beach erosion and damage to coral reefs.” The article further makes the point that many of the islands residential buildings are built on the coastline including oil storage facilities and the airport.

Well, one hundred years is a long time and it is going to be 30 years before there is a even a foot rise, so …….. YES! We should and must start thinking about it now. Coastal defenses would appear to be the most sensible answer but at what a cost? Island Offsets mentions protection of the local mangroves because they trap sediment and disrupt waves but at present we seem to be hell bent on destroying them. It amazes me that developers who put forward schemes involving the eradication of large areas of mangrove are able to come up with reports by “experts” that say the amount they will be removing will not have any “sizeable” impact on the protection and stability of our islands.

At present there is no legislation in place here that takes into consideration the impact of sea level rise. In fact I could get no one in Planning to even say if the subject had even been discussed. The National Trust are worried enough to be raising funds to purchase at-risk forests because they, too, are important in our ecosystem.

Until the insurance companies make a move on this and another fifty years has gone by the problem issue will only be discussed and any actual action will be non-existent. The trouble is with every year passing the estimates of sea level rises is rising. Fifty years time might be too late.

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