Your Views: Time to declare climate emergency

Your Views: Time to declare climate emergency
Eco-City Alexandria is a strategic city initiative to make Alexandria a sustainable community. The Eco-City Charter was adopted in 2008, and the Environmental Action Plan has guided the implementation of the City's environmental programming since 2009, according to the city website. (Photo Credit: City of Alexandria website)

To the editor:

On June 3, the Alexandria Democratic Committee passed a resolution to declare a climate emergency and take action to reduce carbon emissions. Carbon is one of the main contributors to global warming and on March 7, carbon reached 415 ppm in the atmosphere, a level not seen for three million years.

Increases in carbon and other greenhouse gases are causing major disruptions like an increase in natural disasters and a rise in sea level, leading to the forced migration of millions of people who live at or near sea level around the world. Virginia has more than 3,300 miles of shoreline, and rising sea levels will impact historic sites like Jamestown, as well as the largest U.S. Naval Base in Norfolk. Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay, is already disappearing, and will be one of the first casualties of sea level rise.

Local communities like Alexandria have to be at the forefront of efforts to slow climate change. Alexandria has been a leader, passing the Eco-City Charter in 2008, and an Environmental Action Plan in 2010, but since then the urgency has only grown.

Several years ago, along with the waterfront redevelopment plan, the city proposed a $33 million flood mitigation plan to prepare for three-to-four foot storm surges, but if global temperatures continue to rise, this may not be sufficient. A recent PBS NOVA Program showed that in the past the same level of temperature rise that is expected by the end of the 21st Century led to a 20-foot rise in sea level.

Alexandria is continuing to develop its waterfront, with millions in private and public investment, along two miles of waterfront, which also contains historic sites. This should be of great concern to us. The resolution reminds all of us that “the costs of addressing this climate emergency are far less than the costs of not addressing the climate crisis; and solving the crisis will take significant public investment, commitment and resolve.”

This is especially true given that the administration of President Donald Trump has promised to withdraw from the Paris Accords – which Alexandria pledged to support – and is rolling back previous efforts to combat greenhouse gases and is trying to bring back coal. The president and most of his cabinet are climate skeptics who seem to answer more to Republican donors than to science.

Acknowledging the severity of the crisis and the imperative for every community to do something is why the Alexandria Democratic Committee is urging the city, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government to not only declare an emergency but take action. They would be joining Montgomery County, which made the declaration in 2017, and Scotland, which was the first country to declare a climate emergency, and 588 other communities that represent more than 65 million people.

In order to have an effect it is necessary that we set goals, especially as it is the view of many scientists that if immediate action is not taken, by 2030 the earth will reach a tipping point, and it may be impossible to reverse the process of global warming. So Alexandria Democrats have urged leaders “to use sufficient powers and resources to achieve the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the city and the entire Alexandria community by 45 percent no later than 2030, and to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The City of Alexandria can act by passing the updated Environmental Action Plan, which was discussed on Saturday. It calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 50 percent percent by 2030 and by 80 to 100 percent by 2050. It also calls for creating an interdisciplinary task force to guide the plan, encourage private and public participation and converting to renewable energy. Together we can achieve these goals and build a sustainable future.

-Boyd Walker, Alexandria