For those of you who like to cover your ears and whistle loudly any time the subject of global warming comes up, I beg your indulgence for just a few paragraphs.
I will concede that some of my colleagues in the environmental activist community go too far with their dire predictions — Kevin Costner and his movie "Waterworld" come to mind — about the catastrophic effects of global warming.
However, we are facing some data here in the Virgin Islands that is, at the very least, disconcerting. These data demonstrate that in the last 100 years, the average temperature at Southgate Pond on St. Croix has gone up three degrees.
Three degrees, at first hearing, sounds minuscule. To the contrary, a three-degree elevation in average temperature is actually a very large increase. It is the type of increase that can destroy a salt pond ecosystem because the rainfall rise has not kept up with the temperature. This is usually where the ears get covered and the whistling begins, but bear with me; I intend to avoid blame and pointless speculation and propose, instead, to discuss potential solutions and mitigation.
It is important to avoid the blame game on a subject as complex as this one, because we are incapable of accurately determining what is causing the local temperature rise. That is to say that we cannot simply saddle all of the responsibility for the temperature rise on the local community. To the best of my knowledge, no one person or group has been responsible for hurricanes, droughts and atmospheric changes in and around the Virgin Islands. On the other hand, each and every one of us must live with the deleterious effects of these circumstances.
It also is important to recognize that laying blame serves no good purpose. What we must attempt to do is reverse this trend. There are some relatively easy things that we can do to end the ecological damage that has occurred here on our islands. The first is to do no more harm.
Guts, known also as rivers when the rains fall, should be preserved and restored where possible. Building a home or any other structure near or in a gut must be an act of the past. Guts revitalize our ponds and serve as conduits for a watershed. Building in or diverting a gut merely jeopardizes the future of our ponds. Most important to remember is that water does cool the pond surface and the surrounding vegetation, lowering temperatures.
Next, we must begin to restore vegetation throughout the watershed. Plants serve many vital functions in a watershed, but they often are overlooked as we plan development. Our development must begin with recognition of the value of old growth in a watershed. If we protect the plants in our ecosystems, we increase rainfall, lower temperatures and provide a healthy habitat for wildlife.
Almost everyone today recognizes the web of life that serves as the linchpin of any ecosystem. What all of us also must learn to recognize is our place within that web. We can make a difference through healthy behavior and proper planning, or we can continue to degrade and destroy. We may not be responsible for the rising temperatures in our islands, but we cannot use that as a reason to become accessories after the fact to the alarming menace. We must be a part of the solution, or we will become victims of the problem.
Editor's note: Bill Turner is a writer, a former history teacher and the executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association. He writes a daily commentary on events in the Virgin Islands that can be accessed at V.I. Buzz.
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