To the editor:
This summer we learned without a doubt that the world is facing a climate disaster. There have been droughts and fires across the United States and around the world. Flooding has become worse. When the temperature heats up, the atmosphere holds more moisture and tropical storms are worse as the decreased temperature difference in atmospheric streams makes storms move more slowly.
So, storms drop more water and stay longer. In Alexandria we are used to flooding and in the 2008 Waterfront Plan was a proposal for a $33 million flood mitigation system that would be for a four-foot storm surge. The city now says we can expect four to six flood storm surges and the flood mitigation has never been built.
In Germany, there are pictures of cars being washed down river and into buildings. We have not reached that point here, but I have seen people climb into their cars that have a foot or two of water around them.
Yet, we have had waterfront development with underground garages, and we allow cars still to be the dominant mode of transportation near the water. I believe what we need is to rethink how our waterfront works and to fulfill the promise of the waterfront plan by creating a pedestrian zone with permeable surfaces that could absorb water from flooding, and where cars would not be in danger if it did flood and businesses would be protected.
But there is another connection, which is that we have to do our part to reduce emissions. Less driving and more walking can help achieve this. The trolley, which can also help reduce vehicle traffic, will now drop people off at city hall, which has always made sense to me. There could be trees planted down the middle of the street adding an additional cooling effect.
In June 2019, the Alexandria Democratic Committee issued a resolution on the climate crisis. The city soon followed suit with its own declaration. So, what has Alexandria done to act, and what visible signs of action do we see? The city did recently pass a five-cent plastic bag tax and “under the state legislation, localities may use tax revenue for environmental cleanup; educational programs to reduce environmental waste or address pollution and litter,” so we may have some funding for improvements.
Climate change is likely to have a particular impact on Alexandria as a coastal community on the banks of the Potomac River. Scientists predict a potential sea level rise of four to six feet and increased severity and frequency of flooding events by the end of this century. This means adapting to climate change will be key to Alexandria’s environmental and economic future.
There is more the city can do. Eco-city in 2008 and the environmental action plan were a start, but there needs to be more than a collection of plans, awards and designations. We have a solar city designation but only 75 people have taken advantage of this program. For instance, the city has an “Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Readiness Strategy” but no visible charging stations. Why don’t we have a charging station in front of city hall at Market Square or charging stations for city vehicles below city hall? It is getting hot and the climate is changing, and we will have to adapt quickly.
It is not just time to make declarations and get awards, but time to put tangible improvements in place around the city, at a much faster pace, so that we are doing our part to avert disaster. We should have an idea bank so that this is a true dialogue and collaborative process with citizens, who may see things city officials don’t, or have knowledge, knowhow and suggestions about how to fix things.
We are in an emergency because according to scientists we have less than 10 years until we cross the tipping point, where it will be impossible to reverse the planet’s warming trend, and the catastrophic climate events that will follow. Alexandria should be doing its part.
-Boyd Walker, Alexandria