Receding Glaciers, Rising Business Challenges
Tiffany Finley, Associate, Advisory Services
While climbing a glacial ice wall in a remote part of New Zealand eight years ago, I watched in horror as the supposedly immoveable wall shattered in front of me and dropped into a mile-long crevasse. I frantically threw my ice pick into the falling layers of ice and managed to launch myself onto a nearby ledge, falling 10 feet and breaking my leg but thankfully, not losing my life. National Geographic photographerJames Balog’s journey tracking the rapid deterioration of ice worldwide, documented in Chasing Ice, was a chilling reminder of what I witnessed that day—the fragility of one of nature’s seemingly indestructible assets: ice.
Beyond being visually mesmerizing, glaciers provide distinct and necessary ecosystem services. Storing 75 percent of the world’s freshwater and taking up 10 percent of the earth’s land area, glaciers play both a critical role for existing ecosystems and human development. While the majority of the world’s glaciers are receding, it is the extreme changesof entire glaciers calving and falling into the sea that are increasingly alarming. This ice cannot be replaced without another ice age, and the freshwater it held has melted into seawater. The rapid decline in glacial ice often goes unseen, and in extremely remote areas, unnoticed until significant changes have already occurred.
As sources of drinkable water, irrigation for farming, and foundations for rivers serving densely populated locations, glaciers have played a major role in human civilization—a role that is now in peril. The impact of disappearing glaciers on farmland worldwide is second only to how dramatically it will, and already has begun, to change cities. With the majority of mega cities either dependent on water sources directly impacted by glaciers or geographically vulnerable to sea level rise, glacial melt adds one more area of uncertainty to our settlements worldwide. A changing ecological landscape will call for a shift in the way business is done, where people live, and the products we use.
As 2013 begins, climatologists and news reporters alike are reflecting on 2012’s influx of extreme weather. Scientists' modeling of climate change’s impact on wind and water patterns is consistently being proven to have been too conservative to match the earth’s rapid warming. Companies are either feeling the pain, through extreme weather related insurance claims, or seeing the short-term benefits through record sales of electricity and upticks in related retail, such as air conditioning units.
This year, BSR is actively working with individual companies as well as through collaborative initiatives to help business understand, address, mitigate, and adapt to the pressing challenge of climate change. From carbon performance in supply chains and data centers to adjusting business travel practices, every company holds a multitude of opportunities to mitigate risks, as well as compete, in a changing climate.