The Arctic is changing so quickly that it’s become one of the many early warning systems for global climate change. Each year brings new reports of ice sheets breaking off into the sea, along with a mad scramble to plan shipping routes and resource development projects that would have been difficult or impossible a generation ago.
A recent quote of the day in the New York Times put matters in perspective: “All I know is, there is water where it didn’t used to be, and I’m responsible for dealing with that,” said Adm. Thad W. Allen, commandant of the US Coast Guard.
As Arctic ice melts, global climate patterns continue to go haywire, and severe weather becomes much more frequent, Allen’s comment should capture the attention of anyone who plans or supplies meetings.
Thing is, the Arctic isn’t the only place where we’ve seen “water where it didn’t used to be,” or the opposite.
Think New Orleans, where an estimated 1,800 died and meeting facilities were devastated, when far too much water came in far too quickly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Think locations as far apart and diverse as Chicago and France, where heat emergencies have killed hundreds.
Think California, where wildfires brought on by not enough water seem to have become an annual event.
Think Las Vegas, where a taxi driver told me the aquifer should never have been expected to serve a booming population of locals and visitors. They can build themselves a distinctive new downtown, but how much will that matter when Lake Mead runs dry?
Interest in green meetings has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 18 months. But although we’ve found a vehicle for the industry’s sustainability concerns, we have very little sense of the destination.
Many of the new initiatives are genuine, and have been planned with enough care that they’ll bring lasting results. Some of them are no more than greenwashing. And many of the participants who spoke from panels or floor mikes during MPI’s World Education Congress in mid-August were determined to distinguish between the two.
But how do we plan to reduce our industry’s carbon footprint by 70%–80% over the next 15 years? How does that target tie in with our reliance on commercial air travel to transport participants to and from our meetings?
And meanwhile, where are the updated emergency plans and extended early warning systems that will prepare us to deal with “water where it didn’t used to be,” and all the other unexpected results of climate change—particularly while we have participants onsite?
Coast guards may be paying attention, but are we?