Melting glaciers are just the tip of the iceberg

In the week that fellow Young Green Camilla Born headed off to Germany to lobby at the UN climate intersessionals in Bonn, I headed north to Iceland to take part in an environmental conference in my day job as a doctoral student.  As part of this I was lucky enough to be taken to see the huge Vatnajökull glacier by some Icelandic colleagues, and what I saw really emphasised the importance of Young Greens across Europe and the world in trying to halt climate change and its associated problems.

As I stood on the bed of what should have been a glacial lake (and which until only last year was), it was easy to appreciate how and why the decisions made by governments at climate conferences and international summits matter to every person in every single community on the planet.

The melting of glaciers has become an important and easily communicable illustration of the dramatic changes taking place in both local and global environments, but what I had not realised until I was up close to one was the role played by what scientists call ‘the cryosphere’ on a far more local level. In Hornafjordur, one of the huge glacial valleys coming down from the glacier, the retreat of the icecap has actually resulted in the diversion of a river. A consequence of this is that the entire ecology of the region has the potential to change, and the ability of local systems to adapt in such a short time space is severely limited.

Now in Scotland we may not have any glaciers, but climate change can still fundamentally alter the way in which our national environment behaves. Lessons from Iceland show that the reduction in snow coverage during both summer and winter months can fundamentally change the ecosystems of our uplands. Furthermore, the replacement of gradual runoff from snowfields and highland areas with more extreme seasonal flooding creates unstable conditions in the sea lochs and fjords that this freshwater ends up in. Permanent and semi permanent snow and ice cover also reflects heat upwards and influences factors as diverse as wind, ground temperature and rainfall.

The challenge now is to communicate to people in Scotland that climate change is not just a question of rising sea levels and far – flung droughts. On the contrary, it is an issue which will impact directly on the tourism, agriculture and even the industry which keeps Scotland going. This is why it is important that Young Greens such as Camilla go to where the decisions are made in order to try and influence them to do the right thing, but it is perhaps more importantly justification for electing politicians who don’t need to be coerced into taking responsibility for our futures in the first place.

Dom Hinde

SYG international officer

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