2007-12-13 / Editorial

Alarming signs that the earth is warming faster than predicted

This Saturday, Dec. 22, the solstice will occur at 1:08 a.m. local time, marking the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Saturday will also be the shortest day of the year.

The solstice happens just twice a year - when the sun reaches its greatest distance from the celestial equator. The summer solstice occurs in June.

As we prepare for the arrival of winter, scientists this week are reporting that in 2007 the melting of arctic sea ice has accelerated at an alarming rate. The ice melt is happening three times faster than originally thought. Scientists say the Arctic Ocean could be ice free by the summer of 2012, instead of 30 years from now as orginally thought.

Of big concern, some experts say, is whether the earth has reached the "tipping point." That's when the earth passes the point of no return, when there is no longer enough polar ice to reflect the sun's energy and the heat goes into the oceans causing those great bodies of water to warm.

Then the warming spiral becomes just about unstoppable.

Of course all of these predictions are just that. We don't really know what will happen. But we can make make some fairly accurate guesses.

We know that as the ice melts the water level in the oceans must rise. Should Greenland's ice cover melt, the oceans are expected to rise by 22 feet. That would reduce the size of Conanicut Island by about half.

A warmer climate will severely impact our food supply. We will not be able to grow the same crops in the same places.

Plant and animal species will move to new environments. Some species may become extinct as the globe gets warmer. Consider the fate of the polar bears.

More drastic, destructive weather patterns are anticipated as the earth warms. Some scientists believe we are already experiencing the beginning of unstoppable climate change. Our winter weather won't be the same.

Most scientists agree the warming trend is caused by greenhouse gasses produced by burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

The crisis is global, so what can we as individuals do? Plenty.

Start at home. Drive less. Walk or ride a bicycle whenever possible. Use public transportation. Think "green" when making purchases for your home. Use energy efficient appliances and light bulbs. Make sure your home is properly insulated. You'll need less fuel to heat your home.

We can also encourage our Town Council to approve a resolution requiring our island government to operate in an energy responsible manner. The town is already researching the use of wind turbines to produce electricity. We can do more. When town vehicles need to be replaced, let's purchase hybrids or electric vehicles. Can we replace our street lights with more efficient lamps? An energy audit might help determine where the town could reduce its carbon footprint.

The future of the earth is up to us. We can continue at the current pace or we can become pro-active.

As the saying goes, "Think globally, act locally."

- Jeff McDonough

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