Home Climate change Climate Science Blockbuster: Can Virginia Pass the Big Test?

Climate Science Blockbuster: Can Virginia Pass the Big Test?

Step one: Stop, immediately, all new expansion of Virginia’s existing fossil-fuel system.

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An alarming US report last week joins a UN report in October to show we’re almost out of time – no really! — on global warming

By Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Ever had this nightmare? You’re in school when suddenly you remember you have a huge exam the next day. You haven’t been attending class, reading the books, or studying in any way. You start cramming like a fiend, begging friends for notes. You’re stunned at how cluelessly asleep you’ve been when the stakes are so huge. You feel terror.

Well, have a seat. That nightmare “exam” has just become reality — thanks to global warming. In October, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that there will be a massive test tomorrow for humanity. In the planetary sense, “tomorrow” is the year 2030. By that year, according to the climate scientists, the world must have cut its greenhouse gas emissions essentially in half.

And we…are…totally…unprepared as a nation. We’ve been attending frat parties and streaming Netflix and not doing our homework. Now the test is tomorrow. Equally alarming, according to another bombshell report from the US government just last Friday, the bigger storms and stifling heat waves and rising seas are already here – right now – inflicting harm on people and the economy of the United States.

Virginia, like most states in the era of Donald Trump, can only save itself with an “all-nighter” effort. In the next dozen years, we have to build vast offshore wind farms, put solar panels on rooftops everywhere, convert perhaps half the state’s cars to electric vehicles, revolutionize battery storage technology, and much more. This is not rhetoric. This really has to happen. The test will not be rescheduled.

As a first step, in 2019, lawmakers in Richmond must finally pass the “Alternative Energy and Virginia Coastal Protection Act.” This bill would have Virginia formally join nine other prosperous states – from Maine to Maryland – in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  This program requires large polluters – like electric utility monopoly Dominion Energy – to pay for their carbon emissions. It then allows the state to invest the proceeds in efficiency gains, renewable power, and coastal protection measures against sea-level rise.

Of course, while we’ve been skipping class in recent years, the warning signs on global warming have been everywhere, from Arctic ice melt to the stunning “1000 year floods” that plague areas from Roanoke to Norfolk to Northern Virginia. And obviously, a truly global problem requires a global response, with the US in the lead. But the Trump administration has dropped out of school completely, as everyone knows, ignoring the scientists.

So that leaves Virginia and other US states to take the lead until the federal government re-enrolls in the fight. So let’s consult the chalkboard and review the awesome steps ahead.

Step one: Stop, immediately, all new expansion of Virginia’s existing fossil-fuel system. A seminal report last year by the think tank Oil Change International dissected the science and showed there simply is no room in the global atmosphere for new carbon pollution from ANY significant expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and combustion. Not only do we need to create a plan to carefully and fairly retire all coal-fired power plants in Virginia by the 2030s, but we have to stop and reverse the insane increase in fracked gas consumption. Governor Ralph Northam has now become the de facto “Cheerleader in Chief” for the climate-polluting and farmland-destroying pipelines for fracked gas known as the Atlantic Coast and the Mountain Valley Pipelines. These proposed pipelines and new gas-fired power plants would “leak” climate-destroying methane in addition to expanding CO2 emissions. The Governor and other lawmakers should instead make a pledge of “No New Fossil Fuels” in the state while speeding toward clean energy.

Step two: Switch to wind and solar power as fast as we can – and “electrify everything” in the process. We’re talking electric transportation, home heating, hot water, everything. Again, the Alternative Energy and Virginia Coastal Protection Act is a good start, and MUST pass in 2019. Northam has signaled his support for the bill for a second year in a row. Beyond that, me have to hit the books on transportation. One idea is to adopt a “carbon fee” on gasoline and use the proceeds to discount the purchase of electric vehicles while investing in charging stations across our state. We could join neighboring states in a regional version of this called the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Meanwhile, we certainly should avoid spending billions widening highways and encouraging more driving. Bottom line: Transportation is the subject we’ve neglected most in our coursework. Time to open every book, hire every tutor, and catch up.

And catch up we shall – on all fronts. The October UN report and last week’s US report are alarm bells, ones that went off in the nick of time, according to scientists. The last time our country was caught napping before a really big test was World War II. And then, in fewer years, we made even bigger changes than this.

Now we have a dozen years. If we do it right, a high schooler who enters first grade in 2018 will graduate into a world in Virginia where people will need a phone app to find obscure gas stations, coal plants will seem like log cabins, and solar power will just be called power.

That’s what “A plus” looks like.