Advocates on behalf of cleaning up our environment got further strong evidence of the need for “bold, swift action on behalf of our environment,” a phrase used by many who have recently written letters to me. A 1,500-page report based on thousands of scientific studies by hundreds of international experts has concluded that “humans are transforming earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plants and animal species are now at risk of extinction posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival.”
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that produced the report for the United Nations found that “piecemeal efforts to protect individual species or to set up wildlife refuges will no longer be sufficient.” Instead, they call for ‘transformative changes’ that include curbing wasteful consumption, slimming down agricultures and cracking down on illegal logging and fishing.” The writers of the assessment are hoping that policy makers will see the importance of nature to the health of people and local economies and will able “to strike a more careful balance between economic development and conservation.”
As Virginia advocates point out in their plea, “it will now be up to the 2020 Virginia General Assembly to stand up for our health and the environment, for clean energy, and to protect Virginians from the ravages of climate change of which we are already feeling the effects.” The most recent session of the General Assembly demonstrated that the legislators in charge can make all the difference. In a strictly partisan vote, the Republican majority had language inserted in the budget that restricts the Commonwealth’s ability to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that will be a critical avenue for reducing carbon emissions in the state and addressing the negative effects of climate change on the health and safety of the people.
While the language by the Republicans was not subject to a line item veto by the Governor because of past court decisions, the Governor nonetheless has pledged to move forward with new regulations much the same as would be part of RGGI to make significant reductions in carbon pollution from fossil fuel fired power plants. The Governor has made it clear that the budget he prepares next year will delete the Republican language. With the probable change of control of the House of Delegates and State Senate this year the language will not be carried forward in future budgets.
It is unfortunate that the actions of the Governor on this and other items in the budget have been sharply criticized because of a misunderstanding on the part of many that the Governor’s line item veto power is not unlimited — supported by court decisions but still controversial. The good news is that the Governor has indicated in many other actions that he recognizes the need for bold and swift action to protect our environment. I look forward to working with him in greatly enhancing Virginia’s protection of the environment.
There was both shock and amazement on the part of many Restonians to hear last Friday evening that our community was under a tornado warning by the National Weather Service (NWS). These warnings occur all the time especially in the Midwest and earlier that day across the deep South. For us the weather is relatively mild, although the winds do seem to blow harder these days, and the rains this spring seem to have brought a lot of local flooding. The amount of snow varies from winter to winter.
About 8:30 p.m. on Friday the National Weather Service found that an approaching squall line ahead of a larger storm’s cold front distorted into an S shape across Northern Virginia. Gusts along the bow were significant until the bow broke up into a rotating storm. Doppler radar revealed a counterclockwise circulation known as a mesocyclone over Reston that developed into a cyclone.
Technically the National Weather Service recorded that on Friday, April 19, there was a tornado event in Reston beginning at 8:55 p.m. estimated time with estimated maximum wind speed of 70 mph, with a maximum path width of 100 yards and a path length of 4 miles. The NWS uses the Fujita Scale to classify tornadoes into one of six categories–EF0 (weak) to EF5 (violent). The tornado in our community was rated at the lowest ranking, EF0.
For professional weather people who deal with bad weather all the time, the tornado in our community that lasted an estimated five minutes may have seemed weak. But for those who sought refuge in their basements and heard the wind whipping around their homes and saw the trees swaying in their yards the storm was anything but weak. Fortunately, no one was killed or reported hurt. Lots of trees and branches were downed and several cars were damaged with one townhouse being severely damaged. Everyone is left to wonder if we will be as lucky if the flukes of weather send their wrath on us again.
Weather refers to what happens in the atmosphere around us with rain, snow, wind, and thunderstorms as examples. For many of us weather conditions seem to have become more severe. Only scientific recordings of weather events over a long period of time will provide evidence needed to confirm or deny our hunches. All the weather events of temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns averaged over seasons, years or longer creates our climate. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that climate is changing and that human behavior especially in releasing more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere is a leading cause. Completing the circle of what is happening in our world is that climate change is bringing about more extreme weather events.
While extreme weather, climate change and global warming may be controversial topics to some, many of us are deeply concerned. This week’s celebration of Earth Day was a global experience. Our local weather event while relatively mild reminds us that we need to be serious about the subject and serious about our response to it.
Former Vice President Al Gore entitled his book on climate change “An Inconvenient Truth.” Many years have passed, but the truth he put forth that the climate is changing and that human behavior is causing it may continue to be inconvenient for a few to acknowledge because of personal biases, ignorance or financial interests.
But climate change is even truer today than when Gore first focused public attention on it and its causes.
Over the last several weeks I have written three columns in this space on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brought together by the United Nations. It issued a report last month, written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries and based on a review of more than 6,000 scientific reports, predicting much more dire consequences of climate change much earlier than previously had been expected.
Some may see such predictions as inconvenient, but I and most of the world see them as “a warning too dire to ignore.”
Last week the federal government came forth with its National Climate Assessment publication of over 1,000 pages produced by 13 federal departments and agencies overseen by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The researchers found that climate change “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us.”
Most significant to this report that has been produced annually over the last four years is the conclusion that “humans must act aggressively to adapt to current impacts and mitigate future catastrophes to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”
As clear as the evidence is about climate change and the near unanimous endorsement of it by climate scientists, the current federal executive branch continues to ignore this truth. Ideally, a national response to climate change could ensure the effectiveness of mitigation and other responses to our country and the globe. Since that seems unlikely in the next few years, state governments must step up. I share the concern that the pace of state action seems too slow, but progress is being made.
Last year in Virginia we moved forward with grid transformation that will allow consumers and utilities to have the information needed to make informed decisions on their electricity usage. The best way to eliminate the need for more electricity is to reduce demand even as the population grows and the economy expands. Since 2015 the solar capacity in Virginia has increased by more than 700 times to 825 megawatts — still a small number, but we are clearly on our way.
What was once described as an inconvenient truth is well documented for all but a few skeptics and is recognized as an emergency by most. I plan to maintain my 100 percent voting record with the League of Conservation Voters and my commitment to making Virginia a leader in ending the behaviors of people and companies that lead to climate change.
If the 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies on climate change are to be believed, the dire consequences of climate change will be felt as soon as the next couple of decades, within the lifespan of most of the readers of this column.
Do exaggerated weather conditions of hotter temperatures, excessive rains and winds with more hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts over many years for some regions, wildfires covering thousands of acres as well as the death of the coral reefs and some wildlife sound familiar along with recurrent flooding and disappearance of some beaches? All of these are signs of climate change.
The warning from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the second in as many decades. Will it be heeded? Many policymakers will not be around to feel the consequences of inaction, but what about the old-fashioned notion that we have a responsibility for future generations including our own progeny? Should we try to save the planet for them? Any one action by an individual will not change the course we are on with changes to our climate, but the serious and collective actions on the part of most citizens have the potential to make a difference.
I have heard arguments from those who take a religious view of the issue that they do not believe that the god they worship as the creator of the world would let humankind destroy it. Could it be that the same God who gave humankind dominion over the planet would have an expectation that we would be good stewards of the resources and protect them?
I support a total reversal of the insane policies on climate change of the current federal administration. I abhor this administration’s policies and practices to ignore the clear warnings and to pursue environmental rules based on personal and corporate strategies to make a monetary profit or to gain votes from a constituency. As I discussed in this column in prior weeks, I plan to provide leadership on issues at the state level that will curtail and reverse actions furthering climate change.
Now it is up to us individually to live our lives in a way that shows our mindfulness of the effects of climate change and our willingness to make changes ourselves that will start to reverse the damage. As consumers, we need to reward businesses that pursue climate awareness policies and actions and to not deal with those whose manufacturing processes and actions contribute to climate change.
We need to buy energy from renewable sources even if may cost more. We need to live in such a way that enhances the health of the natural elements around us. We need to plant more trees that can have a great impact on greenhouse gases. We need to walk or bike more and drive internal combustion engine vehicles less.
Who’s in with me? Let’s prove the scientists wrong by changing the way we live in order to preserve our planet. If it is too late for you, what about your grandchildren and their children?
Last week I wrote about the dire warning of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the more immediate consequences of climate change than had originally been predicted. Avoiding the damages to our planet and to our way of life would require “transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has no documented precedent,” according to the report.
The greatest economies in the world must lead the changes necessary to preserve our planet and the quality of life for our families rather than dismissing or debating its findings. The time for action is now with the report describing a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040, a little more than two decades away.
What we have instead are politicians at the highest level of the federal government making promises at political rallies in West Virginia to bring back coal, the greatest offender of climate change, and in Iowa to increase corn production for ethanol that when added to gasoline may release more carbon from the lands than it saves. Scores of regulations intended to reduce climate change have been rescinded to gain favor of those who see them as interference in their quest to make more bucks or to gain more votes from a political constituency.
Absent little or no help on this concern at the federal level for the next couple of years, what can be done in the meantime? At the state level I will be pushing for a strengthening of a commitment by state government to increase its efforts at energy conservation, eliminating any subsidies for coal production, intensive economic development in green jobs for areas previously dependent on coal, a tax on carbon, accelerating the use of renewable energy, and establishing Virginia as a green state in its policies as well as reforestation. There are many reasons to take this immediate action in Virginia if for no other motive than that we stand to be among the first state to lose a significant chunk of our land mass with climate change and sea level rise.
I am pleased that Fairfax County has made a nod in the direction of concern about sea level rise, but there is reason to believe that one of the wealthiest counties in the country can find the will and the resources to do even more. We have been planting trees, but we need to plant many more. We have been working to get people out of their individual cars, and we must incentivize more people to use cleaner transit. Thanks to School Board Member Pat Hynes for her resolution calling for state and federal action on climate change. It is a beginning, but the locality must budget as a social cost for the county and not for the school district the addition of solar panels on the millions of square feet of roof space on our schools. Also, our school lots should be forested and not lawns.
Small actions taken by many can produce significant results. We have our warning. No time for hand-wringing. We need to get to work.
The historic designation debate — In this opinion piece, the writer explores two historic designation issues in Herndon and Reston. [Greater Greater Washington]
Trout fishing season is here — You heard that right. The Fairfax County Park Authority invites you to fish for trout at Lake Fairfax Park. Season passes are available. [Fairfax County Park Authority]
Tishman Speyer sheds some land — The Pinkard Group paid $3.15M to acquire the 3.3-acre parcel at the corner of the Dulles Toll Road and Monroe Street in Herndon, part of the Woodland Park East development, from Tishman Speyer. [Bisnow]
Climate change in schools — Well, not in schools. The Fairfax County School Board passed a resolution last night calling on state and federal action on climate change. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
In the time machine — Flavors of Fall brought beer, wine, food and fun to Reston Town Center last weekend. Mercia Hobson offers a recap here. [The Connection]
Photo by Lindi Mallison
Governor Ralph Northam took two significant steps last week related to Virginia’s energy future. In a word, both could be summed up as “conserving.” One action of the Governor was to announce the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan. Later in the week, he announced his signing of an executive order establishing a conservation cabinet.
The Virginia Plan makes recommendations in five areas: solar, onshore and offshore wind, energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicles and advanced transportation. The goals within each of these areas are ambitious, but they are essential in shifting energy use in Virginia to a more environment-friendly direction. In a press release on October 2, the Governor is quoted as saying that “the clean energy sector has the power to create new business opportunities, expand customer access to renewable energy, and spark the high-demand jobs of the 21st century.”
Among the goals of the plan are achieving at least 3,000 megawatts of solar and wind energy by 2022, expanding net metering and community solar programs, and doubling the state’s renewable energy procurement target to 16 percent by 2022. The plan recommends that the state support Dominion Energy’s planned 12-megawatt offshore wind turbine demonstration project with a target of 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2028.
The plan also recommends that the state-sponsored efficiency programs and financing set a 16 percent renewable procurement target and a 20 percent energy efficiency target for state agencies, moving state agencies in the direction of greater efficiencies and the use of renewable energy in a lead-by-example approach. The plan seeks also to increase the annual dollars of investments by utilities in energy efficiency programs. Recommendations also call for action to promote alternative-fuel vehicles with the development of an Advanced Clean Cars program with targets for charging stations and the state’s vehicle fleet.
The Commonwealth and utilities in the state have started efforts in many of these areas as a result of legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. The plan reflects an underlying goal that the strategy not unfairly impact low-income and minority communities. Review the plan at Virginia Energy Plan.
In a separate action, Governor Northam issued an Executive Order establishing the Governor’s Conservation Cabinet, a new initiative “to better protect Virginia’s vulnerable natural resources and improve environmental quality across the Commonwealth.” The Governor stated that “this effort will strengthen our inter-agency coordination and allow us to bring all of our resources to bear in addressing environmental threats and ensuring best practices across state-driven conservation initiatives.” The initiative will seek to work with state agencies, localities, nonprofit land trusts, and willing landowners as well as partners in both public and private sectors, according to the press release announcing the Governor’s action.
Members of the Conservation Cabinet include the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Commerce and Trade, Finance, Natural Resources and Transportation. The full text of the Governor’s announcement can be found at Governor’s Conservation Cabinet.
While some will criticize state government for moving too slowly and not being bold enough in the areas of energy and the environment, I am pleased that we are at least moving in the right direction as it relates to Virginia’s energy future.
While many of us express concern that we do not see as many solar collectors on Virginia roof-tops as we would like, the Commonwealth is showing significant progress on turning sunlight into electrical energy. As with any major change there are some hazy areas that need to be considered as well.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) as reported in the August 2018 issue of Virginia Business magazine, Virginia currently ranks 17th nationally with 631.3 megawatts of installed solar capacity. The ranking is a significant jump from 2016 when the state ranked 29th nationally. Even with the advanced standing, only 0.59 percent of the state’s electricity comes from solar. By way of contrast, North Carolina is second in the nation in installed solar capacity with 4,412 megawatts brought about by generous tax incentives. For North Carolina that is nearly five percent of their electricity supply.
Virginia’s future with solar appears bright with 59 notices of intent with the Department of Environmental Quality to install 2,646 megawatts of solar according to the Virginia Business article. Driving the expansion of solar energy is a sharp drop in price from $96 in 1970 to 40 cents per kilowatt this year and an insistence on the part of technology giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook, all of whom have a presence in Virginia, that their electric power come from solar systems. The Grid Transformation and Security Act passed by the General Assembly this year requires 5,000 new megawatts of solar and wind energy to be developed. Included in that total is 500 megawatts of small, roof-top panels.
Middlesex County Public Schools opened this year with two of its three schools powered by solar energy. Although a small, rural school system, Middlesex has the largest ground-mounted solar system of any school division in the state and is expected to save over two million dollars per year. Excess electricity generated is sent to the grid for credit for any electricity the schools takes from the grid at night through a net-metering arrangement.
Some shadows along the way can be expected with such a massive shift in the way electricity is produced. It takes about eight acres of land for each megawatt produced. Solar farms take up large amounts of land. Just last week the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors voted to deny a conditional-use permit for a 178-acre utility scale solar facility in the County. The supervisors indicated that they had questions about the project for which they did not receive adequate answers. One factor is likely to have been the results of a study by the American Battlefield Trust that indicated the project would be visible from some of the half-dozen signal stations around Culpeper County that were used during the Civil War to detect troop movement. The County depends on a high level of tourism based on its Civil War battlefields and apparently does not want to jeopardize its attraction to Civil War buffs.
The clouds will pass, and Virginia is on its way to a bright future with solar energy.
Any report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is met with skepticism in some quarters, because these were the same people whose findings found that climate is changing and that human behavior is one of the causes.
The so-called “climate change deniers” continue to insist, regardless of the scientific evidence to the contrary, that humans are not to blame if there is any change in the climate. We can deny the latest report of the UCS, “When Rising Seas Hit Home,” at our own peril, especially in Virginia.
The scientists found that “important consequences of climate change are more subtle and slower moving than disasters. One such consequence is sea level rise. Unlike the catastrophic flooding that can accompany hurricanes, sea level rise impacts can take time to manifest. The final result, late this century and beyond, may be neighborhoods underwater.”
In a state like Virginia, with a major region named “Tidewater,” the impact can be especially great. UCS has identified three Virginia communities that will face chronic inundation by 2035, and 21 more by 2100. In the highest level scenario considered by the scientists, 38 communities would be exposed to chronic inundation by the end of the century. Visit the website to see a list of communities that will be hardest hit. Of little surprise is the finding that in the highest scenario, by 2080, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and the Naval Air Station would have up to a quarter of their land chronically flooded.
These findings should come as no surprise to Virginians. In 2015, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) completed a study on this issue at the request of the General Assembly. Its report, “Recurrent Flooding Study for Tidewater Virginia,” found that “recurrent flooding already impacts all localities in Virginia’s coastal zone and is predicted to worsen over reasonable planning horizons of 20 to 50 years due to sea level rise, land subsidence, and other factors.” The scientists wisely did not use the term “climate change,” which continues to be politically charged among some of Virginia’s political leaders.
Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded a grant to VIMS that, along with its match, will total $1.25 million to support “nature-based infrastructure” to help coastal Virginia counter and recover from flood events. Nature-based infrastructure includes tidal wetlands and living shorelines that can help to blunt and even absorb the effects of rising seas and recurrent flooding.
These efforts are important, but the UCS found even bolder policy changes and enhanced coordination among all levels of government must happen to protect our coastal areas. UCS concluded its report, “And even as the Trump administration seeks to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we must work at state and local levels and with other nations to cut global warming emissions aggressively in order to help slow the pace of sea level rise.” Maybe then we can keep our heads above water!
A group of people went to Wells Fargo bank on Elden Street in Herndon on Saturday with no intention of withdrawing money.
Instead, they held up signs and yelled chants, calling out the bank for its support of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The climate justice group 350 Fairfax protested July 8, which pipeline opposition group Protect & Divest had designated as an International Protect and Divest Day of Action. The day’s protests were meant to sway banks, such as Wells Fargo, from funding the Keystone XL Pipeline and other environmentally unfriendly projects such as Virginia’s Atlantic Coast pipeline.
The 1,179-mile Keystone XL Pipeline, when completed, will run from Alberta to Nebraska and will transport up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day. There is an existing pipeline in the region, but Keystone XL will deliver the oil in a more direct route.
It has caused controversy as some people see the pipeline as beneficial because it will create many construction jobs and bolster the nation’s economy. Additionally, if the pipeline is not built, the fear is other companies will transport the same oil but in riskier ways, such as via rail service. However, groups like 350 Fairfax fear for the environmental impact the pipeline’s construction may have.
“[350 Fairfax] handed out flyers to bank customers and passing pedestrians to explain why the Keystone XL pipeline is a disaster for the climate, dangerous for water and soil quality along its proposed route, and is unfair to indigenous peoples whose sacred land would be disrupted,” 350 Fairfax wrote in a press release.
On Facebook after the rally, 350 Fairfax said that pipeline projects can also greatly spur climate change by increasing greenhouse gases emissions.
“The project stands to endanger precious ecosystems, vital aquifers, and Indigenous and sacred lands. It would also exacerbate climate change at a time when a just transition off fossil fuels is critical for the health and well-being of life on Earth,” 350 Fairfax wrote.
The group’s hope is to stop further construction of the pipeline by encouraging its funders to re-evaluate the damage their invested money will be doing to the environment. 350 Fairfax noted that Saturday’s protest was just one of many the group plans to organize.
“We must demand that all investors, including Wells Fargo, #divest from these dangerous and unnecessary projects,” the group said.
Photos courtesy 350 Fairfax
Reston Rider Tackling Country by Bike — Len Forkas talks about the perils of riding cross-country on a bicycle in 11 days, and about why he’s doing it again: to help raise $1 million for a children’s charity during the annual Race Across America event. [Bicycling]
Reminder: Community Center Pool Closed — The Terry L. Smith Aquatics Center is closed through Friday as soil testing is conducted around the pool. [Reston Community Center]
SLHS Team Finishes Fifth in State — Freshman Hannah Waller finished third in the 100 meters and fourth in both the 200 meters and 4×400 meter relay in leading the South Lakes High School girls team to a fifth place finish at the state track and field championship June 2-3. [Press Release]
Virginia Leaders Continue Climate-Change Fight — In reaction to President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, both Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring on Monday said Virginia is joining coalitions that remain committed to the agreement. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]