Wednesday, August 16, 2017
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As sea level rise accelerates, buying shorefront property becomes a game...

Thank God for climate change deniers. They may eventually be the only buyers for shorefront real estate.

Sea level rise may not cause widespread flooding until later in this century or into the next one, but real estate deals involve long timelines: the useful life of a new house or a commercial building can be at least fifty years, while an infrastructure project might last a hundred years or more.

And of course, it's one thing to lose your house, and another to lose the ground beneath it. Sea level rise means low-lying real estate now comes with an expiration date.

So smart buyers-and landowners-have to consider not just today's flood maps, but also ones that haven't been drawn yet. If a rising sea will threaten property some decades from now, it will depreciate over time, like a car. At some point only chumps and climate deniers will buy.

Head-in-the-sand posturing still dominates the headlines, like Florida Governor Rick Scott's alleged ban on the use of the term "climate change," or the North Carolina legislature's silly (and costly) attempt to legislate sea level rise out of existence. Now the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hopes to force states to get serious about climate change by requiring states to do a better job planning for natural disasters caused in part by global warming. FEMA's goal is to save money through better planning, but conservatives have attacked the requirement as politically motivated.

Meanwhile, however, many states and localities have already begun using sea level rise forecasting in their planning. The projections will help land use planners determine not just where to allow growth, but also where to defend existing development against the incursion of the sea, and where the wiser course is to retreat. And of course, the studies should inform the decisions of anyone thinking of buying property on the coast.

Two recent studies provide a picture of sea level rise in Virginia. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) issued its report in January 2013, titled Recurrent Flooding Study for Tidewater Virginia. Building on that study and others, on March 10 of this year the Sierra Club released Sea Level Rise: What Should Virginia Plan For?

Both studies agree on some pretty sobering numbers. By the end of this century, the sea level in Norfolk, Virginia, is projected to be 3.6-5 feet above the level in 1992. By that point, the sea will be rising more than half a foot per decade. The numbers are higher for Virginia than for many states, in part because the land around Hampton Roads is also sinking at a rate of about one foot per century.

Although Hampton Roads gets most of the media attention, sea level rise threatens the entire Virginia coastline and the tidal portions of rivers, including the Potomac River all the way up to Alexandria and Washington, D.C. A whole lot of people should be consulting topographic maps before they make their next real estate decision.

Virginia’s amazing year in energy: gas rises, coal falls, and solar...

Nobody laughed a few years ago when former governor Bob McDonnell dubbed Virginia the "Energy Capital of the East Coast"; we were all too astounded. And today, even "Energy Suburb" still seems like a stretch. Yet, if you measure achievement by the sheer level of activity, Virginia is making a play for importance. The year's top energy stories show us fully engaged in the worldwide battle between fossil fuels and renewable energy. Of course, while the smart money says renewables will dominate by mid-century, Virginia seems determined to drown rather than give up its fossil fuel addiction.

Coal falls hard; observers disagree on whether it bounces or goes splat. Nationwide, 2014 was a bad year for the coal industry. Coal stocks fell precipitously; mining jobs continued to decline; and the one thing electric utilities and the public found to agree on is that no one likes coal. Even in Virginia, with its long history of mining, coal had to play defense for what may have been the first time ever. So when Governor McAuliffe released the state's latest energy plan in October, what was otherwise a paean to "All of the Above" omitted the stanza on coal. And this month, the governor proposed a rollback of the subsidies coal companies pocket by mining Virginia coal.

Of course, coal is not going quietly; Senator Charles Carrico (himself heavily subsidized by Alpha Natural Resources) has already responded with a bill to extend the subsidies to 2022.

EPA opens a door to a cleaner future, and Republicans try to brick it up. Speaking of hard times for coal, in June the EPA unveiled its proposal to lower carbon emissions from existing power plants 30% nationwide by 2030. Instead of targeting plants one-by-one, EPA proposed a systemic approach, offering a suite of options for states to reach their individualized targets.

The proposal drew widespread support from the public, but Virginia's 38% reduction target set off howls of protest from defenders of the status quo. The staff of the State Corporation Commission claimed the rule was illegal and would cost ratepayers $6 billion. Republicans convened a special meeting of the House and Senate Energy and Commerce Committees, where they tried out a number of arguments, not all of which proved ready for prime time. The rule, they said, threatens Virginia with a loss of business to more favored states like-and I am not making this up-West Virginia. Also, Virginia should have received more credit for lowering its carbon emissions by building nuclear plants back in the 1970s when no one was thinking about carbon emissions.    

Twas the Night Before Christmas, and All Through Virginia…

Even though I swore off doing another series of diaries at Blue Virginia on past, present, and future trends in politics, I've been thinking a lot about where our Commonwealth stands. Governor McAuliffee is ready to keep up the fight on Medicaid expansion in Virginia, while also laying down the foundation for a fight with the General Assembly over redistricting. As we prepare to enter into 2015, here are some random, at times disjointed thoughts on Virginia's present and future.

1. On the expansion of Medicaid, the issue isn't just about what the Commonwealth will do for the least fortune among us. Thinking about a practical blank check from the federal government to do more today for struggling Virginians is a timely issue on the eve of Christmas. There is also an argument for asking why Virginia should be paying for the Affordable Care Act without receiving its full benefits.

But after the Supreme Court's ruling, Republican governors and legislatures in state after state rejected the expansion. Rejecting the Medicaid expansion, however, doesn't exempt a state from the taxes and spending cuts Obamacare uses to fund the Medicaid expansion. A September analysis from McClatchy estimated that "if the 23 states that have rejected expanding Medicaid under the 2010 health care law continue to do so for the next eight years, they'll pay $152 billion to extend the program in other states - while receiving nothing in return." That's a helluva gift from (mostly) red states to (mostly) blue ones.

In the next term, the Supreme Court will rule on the claim that the law does not allow for subsidies for health insurance plans purchased on the federal exchange. Depending on the ruling, the Republican Party's opposition to participating in the health care law will mean even fewer dollars going to Virginian families.

2.  I haven't seen a detailed analysis of the Medicaid eligible population by House or Senate district, but the numbers I've seen based on localities indicate that this is not just a moral issue in 2015, but a political winner in areas like Prince William County.

3. Medicaid expansion links well to redistricting reform. While usually such insider baseball is not the stuff of political campaigns, it bolsters the imagine of the Republican Party standing opposed to progress and reform.

But if that's where we are in 2015, where are we going? Virginia is changing rapidly, and I think the great Yogi Berra's observations ring true. "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."

What's the vision for Virginia Democrats not just in 2015, but long term?

Virginia to Communities on Climate-Fueled Sea Level Rise: You’re on Your...

Bubba's Seafood Restaurant - Flooded in the Great Nov 09 Nor-easter_2009_1112Whether you're anti-science crusader Ken Cuccinelli, solution-rejecting Bob McDonnell, or any of Virginia's "centrist" Democrats who know global warming means we're screwed but remain too cowardly to advocate aggressive action, aside from a couple of dozen lonely progressive voices, Richmond is united in telling climate change to go away. Lo and behold, climate change has stubbornly refused to stop accelerating, and now communities like Norfolk are struggling to deal with climate impacts with no help from the state:
City and county leaders, already burdened with typical tasks of local governance  - zoning, construction permits, liquor licenses, school board appointments - are also weighing multi-million-dollar flood control projects to keep the ocean at a livable distance.

While they struggle to pull together know-how and funding, those with the broader view and resources - state agencies - are absent from the discussions: In a study released earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council ranked Virginia as one of 29 states that were "largely unprepared and lagging behind" on planning for climate change at the state level.

In many ways the problem is already upon Norfolk. The Atlantic Ocean off Virginia's coast is rising a quarter of an inch annually, equivalent to two feet in 100 years - faster than anywhere else in the United States except for coastal Louisiana. The ocean at Sewells Point, site of the Norfolk Naval Station, rose 14.5 inches between 1930 and 2010. And that's likely to accelerate. Last month the U.S. Geological Survey reported that sea levels are rising more quickly along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts than globally, possibly as a result of slowing Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns.

The inaction of Virginia's elected officials is actually hurting the state twice - not just paying the price of climate inaction through extreme weather and sea level rise, but hurting Virginia's economy by losing out on clean energy jobs. But hey, who has time to confront looming disaster when there's women's bodies that need regulating, amirite?

Climate-Fueled Sea Level Rise: How Screwed Are We? (Spoiler Alert: Very)

I joined The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann last night to talk about how climate change is fueling an acceleration in the rise of global sea levels, a phenomenon that's hitting especially hard on America's East Coast.

A lighter moment at the end when Thom asked me about "clean coal." Remember when people believed in that mythical creature? So ironic that the same people who screech the loudest about a similarly made-up "war on coal" now (Sen. Jim Inhofe, Sen. Jim Webb, etc.) were the same people who sealed coal's death warrant by blocking national clean energy & climate action legislation, which would've been loaded with carbon capture & storage subsidies.

Mr. Orwell Comes to Virginia

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it." -- George Orwell, 1984

You know a political movement is desperate to maintain control of the debate when it starts banning language itself.  And so my jaw dropped when I saw the following in the Virginian-Pilot:

State Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, who insisted on changing the "sea level rise" study in the General Assembly to one on "recurrent flooding," said he wants to get political speech out of the mix altogether.

He said "sea level rise" is a "left-wing term" that conjures up animosities on the right. So why bring it into the equation?

"What people care about is the floodwater coming through their door," Stolle said. "Let's focus on that. Let's study that. So that's what I wanted us to call it."

Wow.  Just wow.  Since when did "sea level rise" become a "left-wing term"?

New Study Details Threat of Global Warming-Fueled Sea Level Rise in...

Last House on Holland Island, May 2010Sea levels have already risen 8 inches since 1880 and thanks to global warming are forecast to rise at least several more feet in the lifetime of a child born today. A new study from Climate Central takes a look at what that means for people who live on America's coasts:
The studies look at people who live in homes within three feet of high tide, whereas old studies looked just at elevation above sea level, according to work published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research and an accompanying report by Climate Central.

That's an important distinction because using high tide is more accurate for flooding impacts, said study co-author Jonathan Overpeck, a scientist at the University of Arizona's Institute of the Environment. And when the new way of looking at risk is factored in, the outlook looks worse, Overpeck said.

"It's shocking to see how large the impacts could be, particularly in southern Florida and Louisiana, but much of the coastal U.S. will share in the serious pain," Overpeck said.

And what about here in Virginia? I entered a very modest number - three feet of sea level rise, storm surge & tide - into the ClimateCentral.org model & here's what I got:

BBC: “The Disappearing Island in the Chesapeake Bay”

Virginia's Tangier Island was first settled 325 years ago. But as the BBC reports, thanks to a combination of a Chesapeake Bay polluted by unchecked runoff, rising sea levels fueled by global warming, an eroding shoreline fueled by natural subsidence, Tangier Island is slowly disappearing into the Bay:

Learn in the National Wildlife Federation's 2008 report on the Chesapeake Bay & sea level rise.

New Report Highlights Climate Crisis’ Threat to Hampton Roads

A new report takes a closer look at which cities will be hurt by global warming-fueled sea level rise. As Brad Plumer reports, Virginia is in the climate crisis crosshairs:
Things don't look good for India. But the United States doesn't get off easy, either. If you look at exposed assets rather than total population, then Miami, New York-Newark, New Orleans and Virginia Beach all climb higher on the list, with $7 trillion in assets vulnerable to severe coastal flooding by 2070. [...]

Take Miami. A three-foot sea-level rise, experts have noted, would likely put all of Miami Beach underwater and turn downtown Miami into an island, channeled off from the rest of Florida. Yet the state isn't doing all that much to prepare for this eventuality. Instead, it's racing to subsidize new developments along the coasts, through state-run insurance and funding for coastal protection. By contrast, cities such as London and Amsterdam are taking more prudent steps to guard against future flooding - and, as the OECD report notes, are likely to cope with sea-level rise better.

That's not an isolated case. In general, the United States has been slow in preparing for rising sea levels. In many cases, we're actively making things worse, as Steve Nash laid out in this excellent article in the New Republic. This is one area in particular where climate-change denial can do a lot of damage - it's awfully hard to prepare for a problem that no one can agree even exists.

So we're not doing climate mitigation, like cutting carbon pollution. And as an event just last month at NASA's Langley Center in Hampton pointed out, we're not doing climate adaptation, either, like coastal restoration & limiting development in areas just above sea level. Basically, if you were consciously trying to leave the worst possible situation for the next generation, you'd be doing exactly what people like Gov. Bob McDonnell are doing now - deny the problem & delay solutions. And note the 2070 date - we're no longer talking about forecast impacts on some future generation, but real changes happening within the lifetimes of the children in your family right now. Amazing that the same people who profess such a concern with our budgetary national debt have no qualms about leaving our kids stuck with a multi-trillion-dollar climate liability.

Climate Change Deniers Damage National Security

The Pentagon is filled with people who ignore reality at our nation's peril. It is easy for a state Attorney General to manipulate the "conventional wisdom" of his constituency, insulated from responsibility for the potential outcomes. But climate change deniers do not "Support the Troops." And, they betray our nation.

Over the next three days, the three aspects of climate change outlined by Rear Admiral David Titley, USN, PhD will be discussed here. Admiral Titley is not only an accomplished Naval Officer, he is also a scientist with unchallengeable credentials and a member of a Task Force responsible for assessing the impact and threats associated with climate change. As he outlined succinctly when he addressed responding to skeptics, there are three major changes occurring that concern him most: opening of the Arctic Ocean, rising sea levels, and acidification of the oceans. This installment discusses the Arctic Ocean and Bering Strait, pretty darn near Wasilla:

The Arctic Ocean will have to be regarded as the world's largest estuary in the not too distant future. It may become a trade route, economically important, with ice free conditions for about a month each year beginning sometime around 2035 to 2040. By mid century it may be open two to three months a year. We are already seeing increased traffic and exploration. The Bering Strait may become as important as the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Hormuz. Ignoring this aspect of climate change threatens our national survival.

Tomorrow: Rising sea levels.