Categorized | Environment, Featured

Environmental anthropologist sees climate change impacts ahead

The Fairmont Orchid played host to Dr. Kenny Board, who led a two-day snorkeling adventure. (Photo courtesy of Irondog Communications)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor

We’ll see the impacts in our lifetime and they won’t be pretty.

Dr. Kenny Broad, an environmental anthropologist, said the damage already is done and we likely will see the effects of climate change over the next 50 years.

“Even if we could magically turn off all the world’s CO2 (carbon dioxide) today, we’d still get the effects,” Board said during a weekend visit to the Fairmont Orchid. “It’s inevitable that we’ll be impacted. Some may be positive, but there will be very serious negative impacts for people and the ecosystems.”

Broad said his focus is bridging the physical and social aspects of science, specifically the human-environment relationship along coastlines and the impacts of climate change.

“It’s not an easy problem,” he said. “It’s not clear-cut for most people. There are a lot of choices for consumers and there is only so much time, money and psychological space to deal with it every day.”

Broad said he does not see a quick fix, but rather a long campaign to change behaviors and everyday habits.

“Education and regulation are definitely needed, but there is no silver bullet,” he said. “We can’t wait for the next generation. We better fix the current threats that we are certain about if we want any hope.”

Media and social change

“A friend of mine says we are kind of like investigative journalists. We do the research, get the facts and write papers,” he said. “But we’re never sure if anyone will pay any attention.”

The media has a huge role in how people react to climate change threats and whether they will change their behaviors, he said.

For example, he said, dozens of scientists can agree on a specific outcome, but in an effort to be fair and balanced, media also quotes the one guy who has an opposing view.

That’s not really balanced, Broad said, although he agrees all sides must be heard – if only to be discredited – when it comes to science and the quest for solutions.

Plus, he said, “scientists are not really great at explaining things concisely.”

If people can’t get the information in an easy-to-understand way, they might not get the message at all.

“Humans are pretty good at things they see again and again,” Broad said. “They are not so good at seeing far into the future. When you’re worried about the mortgage and kids’ college education, it’s not so important to think about changing sea levels 50 years from now. We can’t wake up and worry about everything.”

But change can come, Broad said. For example, since the economy started to tank in late 2008, scientists have noticed a dip in the levels of CO2 around the world. Whether behaviors have changed permanently remains to be seen.

“There are times in history when we’ve come together,” he said. “And now is the time to do it again.”

‘Everything comes with an environmental cost’

One of the issues that demands more attention is the threat of rising sea levels, Broad said. That, in turn, means a loss of groundwater resources and a host of other serious consequences.

“We haven’t seen anything like this and that’s the big challenge: To get people to pay attention,” he said. “We are making headway on paper. Most major cities have mitigation plans. There are actions people can take right now.”

Still, people in their everyday lives can be doing more to conserve water and protect reefs. And hounding their elected leaders, until their voice is louder and stronger than those of lobbyists, especially big oil company lobbyists.

“A lot of the problem (in trying to change behavior and policy) lies in those powerful groups. But you can’t blame them. We are the addicts,” he said. “A lot of us have good intentions, like changing out our light bulbs, but you’re not done there. There is lots more to be done.”

Scientists have been alarmed to see elevated estrogen levels in marine life. Humans ingest any number of drugs, including birth control pills, and any number of substances, including nicotine and caffeine, that flush right out of the body and float along to waste water treatment plants.

The treated sewage – now deemed clean – is then pumped into the world’s oceans. But the treatment does not break down drugs and substances, so entire marine ecosystems are being fed a steady diet of medications, chemicals and substances intended only for humans.

“All those drugs make people’s lives a lot easier, but everything comes with an environmental cost,” Broad said.

People need to be aware of those interconnected costs.

If the temperature rises even a degree or two, mosquitoes may thrive in areas where the population has no immunity to diseases they carry; wildlife will be forced to find other habitats, likely closer to humans; and the melting glacial ice flows will raise sea levels, sinking atolls, destroying beaches and contaminating groundwater.

Hawaii’s forecast

“You guys (in Hawaii) have a greater sense of appreciation of the natural rather than the material,” Broad said. “That’s good for the environment and the economy.”

That daily connection to the natural environment and a strong tradition to be good stewards of the aina means Hawaii is a little ahead of the curve.

“I’m actually learning more from the locals than I’m here to share,” he said. “The traditional Hawaiian values are deeply ingrained in the culture and the environment is a big part of it. If you lose that connection to the land, you lose your reason to protect it.”

Broad pointed to Hawaii’s efforts to keep the ocean clean and educate visitors about the environment.

“Your corals are in much better shape than other places,” he said. “That’s very good.”

Broad pointed to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, a private-public partnership on the Kona Coast created to develop alternative energy sources.

“Facilities like that need to be incentivized all over the place,” he said. “Hawaii is cutting edge when it comes to aquaculture. There is good aquaculture and there is bad aquaculture. Good aquaculture needs to be developed.”

Dr. Kenny Broad gives a presentation about his Bahamas expedition. Check out the next issue of National Geographic and watch for a special on PBS NOVA. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Fairmont, National Geographic Society partnership

Broad’s Hawaii visit is part of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts’ Global Explorer Series, offered with the National Geographic Society as part of the brand’s commitment to responsible tourism and the environment.

The series, in its second year, offers opportunities for guests to engage with National Geographic experts in a range of activities from guided tours of cultural landmarks to fly-fishing and safari excursions.

Broad conducted a two-day workshop and snorkel adventure to raise awareness about the ocean and the threats it faces.

Broad’s resume

Broad is director of the University of Miami’s (UM) Leonard and Jane Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy and an associate professor in the division of Marine Affairs and Policy and at UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Also, he holds an appointment at Columbia University where he serves as co-director of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions.

Working around the globe, Broad has directed major interdisciplinary efforts to study diverse aspects of human and environmental interaction, including climate impacts and human perception, the use and misuse of scientific information, decision making under uncertainty, and ecosystem based management.

Broad has participated scientific and film expeditions on several continents, including the exploration of one of the world’s deepest caves in Mexico’s Huautla Plateau.

Most recently, Broad led a National Geographic Society expedition to explore the underwater caves of the Bahamas.

The expedition will be featured on PBS NOVA next month and also is the cover story in the August issue of National Geographic Magazine.

— Find out more:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

National Geographic Society:

Fairmont Orchid:

Dr. Kenny Broad (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

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