Undercurrents: With Help from National Institute, V.I. Tackles Climate Change

A regular Source column, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events developing beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.

“How high’s the water, Mama? Two feet high and risin’.”

Johnny Cash’s famous song chronicles the helplessness of a rural family caught in the 1937 Ohio River flood that killed hundreds and left an estimated one million people homeless. But as the lyrics trace a rising tide of catastrophic proportions, they might well serve as the theme song for an upcoming climate change workshop at Government House on St. Thomas.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp is scheduled to welcome a team of national experts who will meet Wednesday and Thursday with local leaders in an effort to address anticipated effects of global warming in the region.

Among the predicted problems are massive erosion of the islands’ coastal areas due to higher sea levels, a general increase in average air temperature, and an intensification of storm activity.

The two-day workshop is arguably the most substantial sign that the local government is taking global warming seriously since late 2015, when Mapp established a Climate Change Council and later hired former Sen. Shawn Michael Malone as a federal relations coordinator with an emphasis on climate change issues.

Presenters will include Parris Glendening, president, and Christopher Zimmerman, director of the Governors Institute on Community Design, a national non-profit organization that advises state and other local governments on development and sustainability matters. The institute is sponsoring the workshop.

Other speakers from outside the territory are Matt Gonser, University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program; Gavin Smith, executive director, Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence at the University of North Carolina; and Missy Stults, research fellow at the University of Michigan.

Wayne Archibald, a University of the Virgin Islands professor and the chief executive officer of Archibald Energy Group, LLC, contributed a chapter on climate change concerns to the territory’s draft five-year plan for development, which has not yet been released. He’ll speak at the workshop on “Setting the Stage: Background on Resilience in the Virgin Islands.”

Mona Barnes, director of the V.I. Territorial Management Agency, is also on the agenda, to discuss the territory’s hazard mitigation plans.

The objectives of the workshop, as stated on the agenda are:

– To review what work has been done on adaptation and resiliency,

– To explore new areas to infuse mitigation and adaptation policy,

– To identify opportunities, particularly within the Hazard Mitigation Planning process, to strengthen the ability of the territory and its agencies to adapt, and

– To seek alignment across agency plans and decision making to ensure higher quality mitigation, recovery, rebuilding strategies, increasing the protection of the community.

A spokeswoman for the institute confirmed that it is sending a six-member team for the workshop but referred further questions to Government House. Attempts to reach government spokeswoman Cherie Munchez for more details late Monday were unsuccessful, and Government House had not issued a statement by the end of the business day.

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