Climate Change—caused primarily by the burning of of fossil fuels—is the major driver of sea level rise globally and in Hampton Roads. The impacts of flooding are here now, and it’s only getting worse. Scientists say our coast could be inundated by as much as six feet of sea level rise within this century.
But while the impacts of climate change are at our doorstep, so are the solutions. CCAN is working to help adapt our coast to rising tides, reduce carbon emissions at the root of the problem, and tap into Virginia’s vast wind and solar energy resources.
A Win-Win Solution: The Virginia Coastal Protection Act
Hampton Roads needs a massive, coordinated investment in new and resilient infrastructure, living shorelines, emergency planning, and strategic retreat from vulnerable areas to keep people safe and dry. And we need money to pay for it—likely upwards of $1 billion for Norfolk alone.
The Virginia Coastal Protection Act of 2016 (HB 351/SB 571) would create Virginia’s first dedicated fund to assist localities with implementing the flooding solutions they desperately need by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which will provide crucial funds for adaptation measures in Hampton Roads and throughout Virginia while lowering emissions in a way that is proven cost-effective.
RGGI is a cooperative effort including nine East Coast states from Maine to Maryland that caps carbon emissions from power plants, requiring utilities to purchase carbon allowances for the pollution they emit. The Virginia Coastal Protection Act would dedicate half of the revenues generated from the sale of carbon allowances will help fund resilience efforts. The other half will support economic development in Southwest Virginia, and clean energy and efficiency investments statewide.
Why We Need Solutions Now: Hampton Roads is Ground Zero for the Climate Crisis in Virginia
Locally, the impacts of climate change include:
- Sea-level rise: The rate of sea-level rise on Virginia’s coast is close to the fastest in the nation. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) projects that Virginia’s coast will see 3-7 more feet of sea level rise by 2100.
- Heavier precipitation: As the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture, leading to more extreme precipitation from storms.
- Super-charged hurricanes: Sea level rise makes storm surges from hurricanes more damaging. When Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003, it caused more damage than a bigger hurricane that hit in 1933. VIMS researchers believe Isabel was more destructive because the storm rode atop seas that were 14 inches higher.
Every time coastal residents must change their route to work or school to avoid flooded roads or vacuum out water-logged basements, they are confronting the local impacts of global climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.
What’s at risk?
The stakes for our communities and economy are high:
- Hampton Roads is home to about 1.7 million people, yet the region has no strong plan for evacuation and shelter in case of a weather disaster.
- The Tidewater region is critical to our national security, possessing the world’s largest naval base, and extensive military and federal infrastructure. Climate change poses a threat to these installations and our military readiness.
- Prominent historical sites like Jamestown Island and Colonial Williamsburg are at risk of disappearing due to sea level rise and stronger storms.
- A thriving beach industry which generated $1.28 billion in 2012 alone.
- Extensive import and export infrastructure, which supports the local economy and provides jobs. Port activity impacts the Hampton Roads economy substantially, generating $12.3 billion in local output.
In the U.S., the Hampton Roads region is second only to New Orleans as home to the most people at greatest risk from flooding caused by rising sea levels. Residents are already seeing the consequences – living on the front lines of climate impacts driven by fossil fuel industry pollution. Chronic flooding is forcing the raising of homes, roadways and naval infrastructure, and it’s only getting worse. Scientists predict that sea levels could rise by as much as seven feet within this century. In the event of a major storm, there is no effective plan to evacuate and shelter residents, even as warming ocean temperatures and longer hurricane seasons increase the risk of superstorms like Sandy.
To highlight the stories of Virginia’s coastal families living on the front lines of climate change we, along with our partners at Virginia Organizing and the Virginia Sierra Club, created Flood of Voices, a website dedicated to the stories of those being affected by rising tides and flooding, especially those whose voices are not normally heard. Click here to hear stories from Flood of Voices.
It’s Time to Make Hampton Roads a Ground Zero for Solutions
While adapting to the sea level rise we’re locked into, we must invest in Virginia clean energy to reduce the pollution at the root of the problem.
If we want to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming, we need to keep at least two-thirds of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. In Virginia, that means we need to phase out dirty energy and transition to clean energy sources like offshore wind and solar power. Yet our largest utility company, Dominion Virginia Power, plans to increase carbon emissions by 37% over the next 15 years.
Instead of accepting Dominion’s regressive plan, we need to pass state legislation that incentivizes Virginia-based clean energy solutions, including a mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard, while removing existing barriers to solar power and wind power. While Virginia currently has NO utility-scale renewable energy, we could:
- Power 700,000 homes with offshore wind.
- Power one million homes with solar energy.
- Save $159 per household annually and create 5,600 jobs by 2020 by increasing energy efficiency.
If we’re going to protect Hampton Roads from the worst climate impacts, we need to build a climate movement that matches the scale of the problem. The energy choices our lawmakers make today will affect the height of the seas our children and grandchildren will have to contend with. Our politicians are tempted to not look past the length of their own term in office, so we have to push them to stop new investments in fossil fuels and build a clean energy economy.
To get involved, email Harrison Wallace, Virginia Coastal Organizer, at Harrison@chesapeakeclimate.org.
- Text of Virginia Coastal Protection Act – Senate Version SB 571
- Text of Virginia Coastal Protection Act – House Version HB 351
- RGGI City Endorsements
- Editorial Boards Have Spoken: Virginia Should Join RGGI
- Fact Sheet — Support (HB 351/SB 571): Virginia Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act (PDF)
- Read more about Flood of Voices, and submit your own story
- Fact Sheet: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
- Fact Sheet: The Virginia Coastal Protection Act
- Infographic: The Power of Coastal Protection
- Analysis Group Fact Sheet: RGGI as a Blueprint for Clean Power Plan Success
- See the summary: Virginia Editorial Boards support RGGI as a climate solution
- Fact Sheet: Climate Change in Coastal Virginia: The Impacts Are Here Now, But So Are The Solutions.
- Fact Sheet: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: How Virginia can Reduce Climate Pollution, Comply with Federal Standards, and Generate New and Significant Funds.
- Read the report: Safe Coast Virginia: Climate Change Threats and Practical Solutions for Coastal Virginia.
- White paper: Why RGGI would incentivize carbon-free energy — not new natural gas — in Virginia.
- Read the Reuters Special Report: “Water’s Edge: The Crisis of Sea Level Rise.”
- Read Mike Tidwell’s Virginian-Pilot op-ed, “Will Norfolk be the next New Orleans?”
- Watch PBS’s Need To Know 04/27/2012 episode: Sea-level rise in Norfolk
- Watch PBS’s Need To Know 06/24/2011 episode: Climate Change at the Doorstep
- National Journal Article: “The Scary Truth About How Much Climate Change is Costing You”
- The Virginian-Pilot Report: Virginia must lead in fighting sea level rise
- Learn more about how state shelters couldn’t hold half of expected evacuees
- Factsheet on the effect of global warming on hurricane behavior
- Presentation on the effect of accelerated sea level rise on the Norfolk Naval Station by Joe Bouchard, Ph.D
Watch the Video: Sea of Change