Commentary/Opinion: Charlottesville’s extreme weather heralds a greater environmental crisis
As we endure winter and hope for an early spring, we also know that spring now brings dangerous, heavy rains that are only predicted to grow more frequent.
For decades, scientists have noted that extreme weather could be one the most disastrous impacts of climate change. Now, after years of federal policymakers ignoring the problem, the negative impacts are popping up all over Virginia.
A Community Climate Collaborative report from this summer highlighted the flooding already happening throughout Central Virginia. From 1995 to 2015, Charlottesville and Albemarle County experienced nearly 100 floods, creating more than a million dollars in damage and tragically claiming one life.
Using long-term climate data, the report also showed the average number of extreme rainfall days in Charlottesville has climbed by nearly 80% from the 1890s to 2010s. Without coordinated and real action, this trend will increase as temperatures rise. According to the report’s authors, flooding and extreme rain events will be a “top climate hazard for Charlottesville by 2050.”
But this problem is not limited to Charlottesville. In Alexandria, entire communities face regular basement flooding despite not living in a flood zone. In Southwest Virginia, the agricultural sector faces inconsistent growing seasons and extreme crop-killing weather. And in Hampton Roads, where I live, families are being priced out of their homes by rising insurance costs, due to repetitive flooding.
Flooded, impassable roads to one of the nation’s busiest seaports could keep trucks with goods from reaching Central Virginia grocery stores and have a massively negative impact on the economy. A 2006 report from the Mason School of Business found that more than $31 million in goods passed through the Port of Virginia; this activity generated $4.5 billion in revenue and more than 35,000 jobs. Since then, the economic power of the Port has only grown, so too has its flood risk.
However, it is not just a matter of economic security; addressing flooding is vital to national security. The world’s largest naval base is in Norfolk, and mission-readiness is challenged by flooding, sea level rise and frequent “rain bombs.” In Hampton Roads, local leaders and the Navy’s top experts have been working hand-in-hand to ensure that this critical national security node is protected and the supported industries, notably shipbuilding, can continue to operate despite flooding and higher tides.
Yet, challenges created by climate change are too great to be overcome by just local and regional action, regardless of the partner. We need better, coordinated policies that address immediate needs and stem the growing crisis of flooding. We need to attack the challenge on all fronts: state and federal policies that address flooding and global agreements to reduce carbon emissions.
As lieutenant governor, I will bring my experience of working on flood and climate mitigation to Richmond. Flooded roads and pricey property damage are proof that we need to move now, because families are already experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis.
At the 35,000-foot level, I will work toward accelerating our goal of a 100% Clean Energy Virginia by 2050. Achieving this goal will not only involve tax incentives and more clean energy generation opportunities, but also scientific breakthroughs, like those developed at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and the Center for Economic & Policy Studies at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. We need to invest in the development and implementation of these technologies that are innovating the green energy future in Virginia.
However, we don’t have to wait for these new technologies. Others, such as offshore wind, are being built now promising clean energy and 5,000 new supply chain jobs. Virginia’s mountain ranges also offers wind power opportunities.
Though, as with all issues, state and federal policy are necessary to drive total and lasting change each of us, individually, has the power to make an impact by demanding lawmakers prioritize environmental justice and reducing our own personal carbon footprint, by implementing energy efficiency measures, migrating to electric vehicles, composting and/or installing rooftop solar panels.
Climate change is driving up temperatures and rainfall throughout the commonwealth. We can take steps to address the crisis before flooding grows into something much worse.