George Mason University professors, Jim Kinter (Centre for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies) and Ed Maibach (Centre for Climate Change Communication), in this op-ed highlight the forthcoming creation of a pilot project, the Virginia Climate Centre, which will serve as a climate extension service to help Virginia’s cities and towns increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change. The pilot project will start with communities in Northern Virginia, with the goal of scaling to a state-wide effort
Ignoring a problem that continues to get worse is rarely a wise option. A better approach is to do what is necessary to understand the problem and find solutions to address it.
Communities across our Commonwealth are already being transformed by the effects of climate change, and not for the better. Virginia’s weather and climate will continue to undergo serious changes over the coming decades and beyond. Rising sea levels, increases in flash flooding, and more frequent dangerous heat waves are of particular concern.
At the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, sea level has risen by about a foot over the past century and is projected to rise at least that much again over the next 30 years – the amount of time it takes for a new homeowner to pay off their mortgage. By 2100 – within the lifespan of most children born in Virginia this year – sea level is likely to rise by as much as 5 feet. Residences and businesses in the Tidewater region are likely to be hit especially hard with chronic high-tide flooding and coastal erosion because, in addition to rising sea levels, the land underneath them is literally sinking–a process called “land subsidence.”
Flash flooding is also becoming more common and more destructive across the Commonwealth. What were once 100-year events are now occurring on average once per decade. By 2100, they are projected to happen almost every year.
Heat waves are increasing in frequency, duration, and intensity. This is especially harmful to the health of people in low-income communities who are most vulnerable to prolonged, intense heat waves. Other health harms from our changing climate include increasing numbers of injuries and deaths due to the increasing number and intensity of violent storms, more illnesses caused by mosquitoes and ticks, and more food- and water-borne illnesses.
The causes of our changing climate are well-understood, primarily burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel), clear-cutting old growth forests, and destructive commercial agricultural practices. Through the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 and the Clean Cars Bill of 2021 our state is making significant headway in efforts to reduce the global warming pollution that we produce here.
But even as we make progress in decarbonising Virginia’s economy, the hard truth is that our climate will continue to change for many decades into the future. If we want to preserve the things we love – including our health, our communities, and our natural resources – we must make good decisions now about how to manage the risks.
To help cities and counties in the Commonwealth understand and effectively manage their climate risks, we and our colleagues at George Mason University are developing a pilot project for a climate extension service that we hope will eventually become a statewide Virginia Climate Centre. Established with federal funding, the pilot project will help cities and towns in Northern Virginia increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change by providing these municipal governments and their businesses with science-based tools, services, and advice on risk prevention and mitigation strategies.
By increasing community resilience to severe weather, air pollution, drought and floods – especially in low-income communities that are most susceptible to the harmful effects of climate change – our pilot project aims to help local governments manage our collective resources wisely, with a focus on protecting people, natural resources and the profitability of businesses, and promoting entrepreneurship for a sustainable Virginia.
All communities in the Commonwealth need and deserve access to the resources necessary to effectively prepare for the inevitable impacts that will result from our changing weather and climate. This includes actionable information on their current and projected future climate, assessments of the likely climate change impacts on human health, buildings, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture and natural resources, and help in identifying the best adaptation and resilience strategies.
We urge Governor Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia Legislature to support developing these resources for every local jurisdiction in the state. The lives and livelihoods of people across Virginia depend on it.