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Environmentalists Discuss Impact of Global Warming on Territory

June 9, 2008 — The three dozen St. Croix residents gathered Monday night at the University of Virgin Islands Great Hall had diverse opinions about how the global warming problem should be solved, but they had no disagreement about it being a problem that needs more public focus.
"The choir came out tonight," said event organizer Nick Drayton, program director of the Caribbean Ecosystem program for the Ocean Conservancy. But he said he was pleased that the audience included about a dozen young people, in addition to a large share of older, committed environmentalists.
Drayton heard Claire Carlton of the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Witness Programme on a recent trip to San Francisco and decided to bring her to St. Croix. Carlton, from Australia, has worked for 13 years in the environment sector, specializing in biodiversity conservation and mitigation of climate-change impacts.
She prefaced her presentation by asking audience members what impact they thought climate change was having in the Virgin Islands.
"Causing the sea-surface temperature to be higher and coral bleaching," said Carole Cramer Burke, a former director of the St. Croix Environmental Association.
"More Sahara dust," said another audience member.
Even the rainstorm earlier in the day might be an effect of global warming, said Kelly Gloger, who owns a St. Croix alternative-energy company. Ten inches fell within an hour, he said.
Carlton agreed that global warming is causing the higher ocean-surface temperatures. There is still debate over whether global warming causes more frequent storms, but there is no debate that it is causing more intense storms, she said.
The statement about Sahara dust interested her. She said she has no knowledge of whether global warming causes it, but she will try to find out.
The World Wildlife Fund and partners in the Climate Witness Programme are working to create a greater sense of urgency about global warming.
"It is an initiative to help build a movement of people who have observed the impacts of climate change in their local environment, on their family and community, and who want to be active in participating in the solutions," said the news release announcing the event.
The Climate Witness Programme has 90 witnesses, with 20 more in the process of becoming witnesses. Bits of some of the witnesses' stories were given: glaciers melting in Nepal, rising seas taking homes in delta areas and hunting grounds melting in northern Russia.
Several audience members tried to give the global witness program a V.I. flavor. One suggested a group like the Guardians of Culture be formed and called the Guardians of Environment. Another suggested holding town meetings focused on elderly people telling what the island environment once was like.
Many in the audience noted that concern about the environment might not get people off their fossil-fuel addiction, but there is a good chance economics might.
"Money will be the motivator," Gloger said. "If oil goes to $200 a barrel, everyone will be clamoring for changes about how we get our power."
Several expressed concern that there is no grassroots movement forcing government action.
"We don't complain to the people to whom we should complain," Bonnie Laurie said. "We have been lulled into a stupor."
Drayton also expressed concern about the lack of government action: "When they hear that 50 to 60 percent of the coral reef is dead, you would think they would say, 'Oh my God,' but they say nothing."
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