YOUR VIEW | What climate change means locally

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To the editor:

The visual images of climate change are often forlorn polar bears perched desperately on a small patch of shrinking ice or mammoth glacial chunks of Greenland crashing into the ocean. 

As Congress and the Virginia General Assembly inch toward solutions, lets bring it home to perhaps less dramatic but very compelling visuals like flooding along the Potomac River shoreline and wrecked infrastructure.

What does climate change mean locally?

Seas are rising in part because of the Earths warming. This means that the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, like the Potomac River, in turn, are rising too. Consider these facts:

Sea level in the Chesapeake Bay has risen approximately one foot over the past century, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. This rate is two times faster than the global average, report scientists at the College of William and Mary.

Without action, the Potomac River could rise by two feet by 2050 or with a surge, by four feet, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts.

The shorelines of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, such as the Potomac River, are among the regions most threatened resources, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments warned last year. Low-lying areas along the Potomac are at risk for flooding which will exacerbate the effects of storm-induced tides or floods, COG said.

Old Town and other riverside communities could see flooding further west than the inundation Hurricane Isabel wrought in 2003.

More intense storms will overwhelm storm-water facilities, roads and other infrastructure, analysts maintain. Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climate expert, predicts more storm surges will destroy trillions of dollars of infrastructure.

Northern Virginians need to face the facts:

The area gets half of its electric power from coal plants, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Virginia ranks 34th in energy efficiency among states.

If Washington-area growth continues as projected by COG, emissions from energy consumption will jump by 35 percent by 2030 and 43 percent by 2050. 

Cutting emissions requires efforts by all players individuals, businesses, local governments, state governments, the federal government and other countries.

Alexandrias Eco-City initiative is a constructive step. Fairfax is a Cool County and Arlington has its AIRE, Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions. The Virginia General Assembly, now in session, can make a big leap forward by implementing the 2008 recommendations of former governor Tim Kaines Commission on Climate Change. The U. S. Senate should follow the House of Representatives lead and pass a bill soon.

There is an urgent need to address the cause of global warming, as the costs of inaction are greater than the costs of mitigation and adaptation, the COG advised a year ago. 

The climate crisis will not be solved by international deals alone. Virginias elected officials should act before it is too late. State legislators can start with S. 71, an energy efficiency bill that will reduce emissions and cut costs. And the rest of us must do our part as well.

For fact sheets on global warming, including tips on what you can do, visit http://www.audubon.org/globalWarming/.

Glenda C. Booth
Alexandrian and Virginia outreach coordinator, National Audubon Society and advocacy chair, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia

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