Editorial: The time is now on climate

·3 min read

It would be very easy to lose hope reading the newest report by the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change, which offers dire predictions about what will happen should average global temperatures continue to warm.

The better move, however, is to meet despair with action — embracing individual changes and mobilizing to support regional and national measures to address the climate emergency evident all around us.

Consensus documents such as the IPCC’s tend to be tepid in their conclusions, but the August report states clearly that without a dramatic and rapid reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels, and a precipitous decline in the resulting emissions, the world faces a grim future — one of extreme weather events, an increasingly inhospitable climate and widespread harm to humans, animals and plants.

The IPCC has been sounding the alarm for years, warning that with global warming greater than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial age average would be difficult to reverse. Anything greater than 2 degrees of warming would be catastrophic.

A 2019 report concluded that unabated warming would complicate food production for a growing global population, with droughts, flooding, deforestation and land degradation all reducing the amount of farmable land. The crisis would not be evenly distributed, with nations along the Equator predicted to suffer the most.

That, in turn, will lead to climate-driven migration, and a host of problems accompanying the movement of large populations to more hospitable land. That is already evident in Central America, where tens of thousands of people in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama have sought refuge from rising sea levels, more frequent tropical storms, terrible droughts and related climate concerns.

The foremost antidote to global warming is a sharp reduction in greenhouse emissions created by the burning of fossil fuels. It is critical that federal policies support that mission and that the nation moves quickly to adapt to a green-energy future. The United States must lead by example and use its international influence to advance a more rational and sustainable climate policy.

That’s all beyond the scope of the average Hampton Roads resident, who is already seeing the effects of climate change in local communities including more frequent flooding, more intense rainfall, extended periods of drought, rising seas and more severe tropical systems in the Atlantic.

A new report commissioned by the General Assembly looks at the threat to Virginia’s coastal areas, and it also makes for harrowing reading. Sea-level rise and flooding will require extensive resilience measures and substantial investment to protect vulnerable communities.

Some of that is already happening. The creation of the Community Flood Preparedness Fund will help to fund resilience projects in at-risk communities and lawmakers in 2020 passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which commits to zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But climate change cannot be an issue to address through legislation, but a thread stitched into the fabric of all that we do. Reducing emissions and building a green energy economy will both create new jobs and industry, expanding the commonwealth’s economic base, and help tackle the pressing need to address the climate crisis.

Change can also be made by individuals and families, who make life and work choices with collective power. One person buying an electric vehicle makes some difference, but municipalities that invest in fleets of EVs can do more. Citizens should embrace thoughtful climate policies through their dollar and their vote.

What’s clear, both from the IPCC report and the study focused on Hampton Roads, is that time is not a luxury we have. We cannot afford to endlessly debate these issues, not when the temperatures keep rising and the seas draw ever closer.

All is not lost, but we face a grim future unless we act urgently and cooperatively to effect change. Global warming poses an existential threat to our region and we must move now to protect it from what we know is coming.

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