Climate Change & Small Islands, Part 1: American Samoa

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by Jeremy P. Feakins

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Tutuila Island American Samoa
Tutuila Island, American Samoa

Climate Change, specifically sea-level rise, directly impacts small islands such as the small island of American Samoa. The United States’ only territory south of the equator, American Samoa is situated about 4000 km (2600 mi) south-west of Hawaii, east of the island of Samoa (Western Samoa), and 1200 km south of the island of Kiribati.

Small islands, whether in the tropics or higher latitudes, are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events. Some scientists predict that many of these islands could become uninhabitable in as little as 30 years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has long sounded the warning bells of the disastrous effects of climate change. These changes directly impact the well-being of literally billions of people worldwide. You can read the report here.

Increased flooding, drought conditions, and high temperatures are all signs of adverse conditions caused by climate change.

In American Samoa, living conditions have been directly and adversely affected by climate change. For example, one consequence of climate change is the rise in sea level leading to saltwater penetration under the island.American Samoa flag

The result? Aquifers tainted with salt. Aquifers are typically saturated regions of the subsurface that produce good amounts of water to a well or spring. For many residents of American Samoa, this is their only source of water.

A research scientist at the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency, Mia Comeros, warned of the potential impacts of climate change and the effect on the territory’s water supply, such as aquifers. “It will be a problem of water quantity and that is really important because we are so isolated and it will have impacts on the economy and public health.” According to the Radio New Zealand report, Ms. Comeros says sea level rise and storm surges as a result of climate change can bring about changes in surface and ground water use patterns, impacting the sustainability of the country’s water supply.

Proven solutions such as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) are available now to address the needs of those affected by climate change. For example, OTEC offers 24/7 renewable energy along with an abundant water supply for drinking, fish farming, agriculture and industry. OTEC offers energy-efficient seawater cooling technology for large commercial buildings such as hotels or airports – technology that uses less than 90% energy when compared to traditional systems. Since the 1990’s, these systems have been operating at the Natural Energy Laboratory in Hawaii.

In the 1990’s, the US Department of Energy stated in its ‘Renewable Energy Plan of Action for American Samoa’: “There has been strong interest in OTEC among the U.S. Flag Territories and Commonwealth in the Pacific dating back to the late 1970s due in part to their proximity to both warm and cold sea water, as well as to their conviction that, of all the renewable energy options, OTEC showed the greatest potential for providing base-load power to replace imported oil. This conviction holds true today, and the OTEC developments in Hawaii conducted at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii by the State, DOE, PICHTR, and many segments of the private sector are followed closely.”

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is a large financial institution based in Manila, Philippines. According to their website, ADB aims for an Asia and Pacific free from poverty.

ADB, in partnership with member governments, independent specialists, and other financial institutions, is focused on delivering projects in developing member countries that create economic and development impact. They understand the potential of OTEC. In a recent report, ADB stated, “[T]he OTEC process is well understood, and the technical resource can be readily estimated based on the theoretical resource.”Smokestacks and American flag

ADB says the next step requires the realistic determination of the costs and the potential global environmental impact of OTEC plants. This can only be accomplished by deploying and subsequently monitoring operations with first generation plants.

The facts are the facts.

The human race is the root cause of our damaged environment.

However, despite this disaster, less than one in four Americans is extremely or very worried about Climate Change, according to a poll of 1,058 people. About one out of every three Americans is moderately worried and the highest percentage of those polled — 38 percent — are not too worried or not at all worried.

It is up to all of us – financial institutions, governments, investors, individuals – to work towards or find solutions that will combat the effects of global warming.

While so many people around the world suffer the consequences of Climate Change, ignoring the issue, adopting an attitude that these problems ‘do not affect me’, or ‘I’m waiting for someone else to take the first step’ is unjust, unhelpful, and, simply put, immoral.