Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Climate Change

Meteorologists and emergency managers from the high Plains to the Appalachians are on alert as the U.S. has the year’s first widespread bout of severe weather. The key message:  Have a Plan.            (Christian Science Monitor, April 9, 2015)

The Climate Change Discussion

After the winter’s snows, residents of the Northeast might disagree with the “first” bout of severe weather in 2015!  And, with regard to the bulletin above, climate scientists warn us to not confuse weather (a single episode) with climate change (observed facts over the long-term).   Perhaps Noah or those who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy might be reluctant to accept this distinction as both weather events re-arranged the environment.  The increasing frequency of severe weather occurrences, observers say, are the result of trapped warm air above us caused by human activities.  The change in weather patterns is part of the climate change that is modifying our landscape. 
Change should not be a surprise; the climate and environment are ever changing.  Five hundred million years ago receding oceans left the serrated ridges we see on the massive rock formations along our roads.   Fifty million years ago Mole Hill stopped erupting and polluting the air with gases and dust.  Five thousand years ago man began devising written languages that allowed him to describe his environment and to observe and report on changes.  The newest force affecting environment is man with the capability and intelligence to do well or to do harm.  People who distrust scientific discourse and people who deny existing change are often described as mentally lazy, politically angry, or economically beholden to a special interest.  Those on the opposite side are deemed doomsday, hand-wringers and may also be guilty of the same traits as the deniers. Most people are somewhere in the middle between the deniers and the doomsayers. Opinions on what action to take on climate change is far from unanimous.  
   Efforts to solve our environmental problems need to include personal, local, state, national and even international action.  Given recent political debates, it may come as a surprise to Virginians that its State Constitution (Article XI, Section 1) promises “the commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, land and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the people of the commonwealth.”  The documentation of climate history (often reduced to a plethora of graphs) and a discussion of climate change in Virginia illustrate some of the issues.  From the existing records Virginia once had a generally stable, predictable climate but the long-term historical data show recent trends to be otherwise.   The trend lines provide insight into what may be happening in the future.  These transitional changes in climate affect our ecosystems   Flora and fauna changes are climbing mountains, like at Mt. Rogers, so where a flower that once bloomed only at the base of the mountain is now found 1,000 feet higher.  A flower that a few years ago bloomed in Danville in April and in Leesburg in May is now seen in bloom in Danville in March and in Leesburg in April.  These changes are being followed by the invasive stinkbugs and kudzu entering our neighborhoods.  Virginia’s occurring environmental changes are not bound by jurisdictional borders. The State border is not a barrier to coal dust and acid rain carried on winds from the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.   The “outside” factors as well as local factors are causing deforestation affecting the canopy of our trees that moderate temperatures and cleanse our air.  Regional and national programs are needed to address the problems.
vertically and horizontally.

What to do? The caution is that the solutions do not have unintended consequences, which make the problems worse.  Solutions to reduce or eliminate fossil-fuels usage raise the most economic and political controversy.  There are many solutions proposed, but unlike buggy whip manufacturers who were once only a small voice against the automobile, the billion dollar companies with interests in fossil fuel (the beneficiaries to a large extent of the automobile) are powerful players in the economy and in the political process that decide energy policy.  For effective action to reduce fossil-fuels usage and, consequently, reduce the polluting discharges, many competing interests at international, national, local, and personal levels have a stake in the outcome.  Scientists and policy makers also need to be alert to negative consequences.  For example, in the development of alternative bio-fuels some are found not to be cost effective because production does not reduce polluting energy.
A few proposed programs advocate managing our environment problems with infrastructure upgrades.  All of us and the environment benefit from increase fuel economy and reduced automobile wear and tear that well-kept roads bring.  In our neighborhoods greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced through energy efficient buildings and improved cement-making to build the buildings.  Individually we can move closer to work, consume less, go vegetarian, unplug (more money is spent on electricity to power devices when they are off than when they are on) and divest holdings of polluting businesses from our portfolios.
Lastly, geo-engineering should be considered in addressing the challenge of climate change.  Some proposals sound like science fiction solutions, for example, placing millions of small mirrors or lenses in space to deflect the sun light.   Before jumping on this bandwagon, first ask “What could go wrong with this idea?”  Geo-engineering, however, does have an exciting future.
Those who have observed negative environmental changes and wish to behave responsibly have taken action.  Regulations in place are leading to cleaner power plants; a regional compact in the Northeast to cap CO2 pollution have reduced by half greenhouse gas emissions in half in the area; state and national regulations are controlling methane leaks; and forest and grassland management programs are bring implemented.  In the private sector acceptance of the science on climate change is evident in the design of facilities and operations (Google, Apple) to reduce its effect on the environment.   Still, many scoff that effective action to address climate change can be made,   Even if you don’t believe in human-induced climate change, remember the weather forecast at the beginning of this essay.  You know that a weather event will come through the Valley and to prepare for this eventuality is practical for you and your community.  It is an insurance policy.
especially by an individual.
            The Massanutten Regional Library will host Dr. Les Grady on Monday, April 20th at 1:00.  Dr. Grady is a retired engineer who taught environmental engineering at Perdue and Clemson Universities.  He now devotes his time to the study of climate change and global warming and to reducing his carbon footprint!
On April 27th at 1:00, Jay Webb, Director of Meteorology for WHSV-TV-3, will give a talk on weather in our valley.  Bring your questions.

Ben Adler.  What do conservative policy intellectuals think about climate change? April 2, 2015. 
Stephen Nash.  Virginia Climate Fever.  University of Virginia Press. 2014.
David Biello.  10 Solutions for Climate Change.  Scientific American.  November 26, 2007.
                         7 Solutions to Climate Change Happening Now.  Scientific American.  November 17, 2014.

by Diane Rafuse

1 comment:

  1. Good fact about the State Constitution!!! Everyone should read this.