The future of coastal Virginia, and other trivia

recent_sea_level_rise.pngYesterday, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Fourth, and most authoritative, Synthesis Report on the scientific consensus on global climate change and strategies for mitigating its impacts. The 23-page summary is well worth reading, particularly for the much stronger confidence expressed in fingering human activities for causing a range of climate changes, compared with earlier IPCC reports.

What does it mean locally? In a meeting organized by the National Environmental Trust, Jay Taylor of Wetlands Watch and I met yesterday with reporters at the Norfolk Farm Market to discuss what the IPCC Report means for us locally in the Hampton Roads region.  The question is a timely one since this region is home to roughly a million and a half people, the world’s largest naval base, and one of the eastern USA’s largest industrial ports.  And much of that population and infrastructure are situated on very low-lying land.  And — adding insult to the injury of rising global sea levels — the land in the Hampton Roads area is gradually sinking. So we get the double whammy.

The story in the Daily Press, “Experts speak on climate change“, by Austin Bogues was well done and generally captures the gist of the comments Jay and I made. I might have emphasized some of our other points, but hey – these reporters are working on deadline and have limited space to work with.

iceskater.jpgThe story in the Virginian Pilot I can only describe as surreal.  On the last page of the Hampton Roads section, our discussion of climate change impacts were tacked into the last few paragraphs of a story on the reopening of the local skating rink (“Rink reopens for season 3“).  No, I am not making this up.

Now, I understand that these are regional newspapers that have to focus on issues of local interest (hence the front-page leader about . . . an inspirational cancer survivor).  And that there has been a lot of news on climate change lately, which tends to saturate readers’ short attention spans, accustomed as we have become to rapid-fire stimulation by more exciting news like the travails of Britney and her kids and hairstyle. And, to be fair, the Daily Press did carry the AP wire story on the release of the IPCC report, on page A22 (though it’s not in the online version of the Daily Press, you can find the AP story elsewhere).


We are talking here about, literally, the future of planet earth.  As the NY Times reported:

“Members of the panel said their review of the data led them to conclude as a group and individually that reductions in greenhouse gases had to start immediately to avert a global climate disaster, which could leave island nations submerged and abandoned, reduce African crop yields by 50 percent, and cause a 5 percent decrease in global gross domestic product . . . ‘If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late,’ said Rajendra Pachauri, a scientist and economist who heads the IPCC. ‘What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.'”

The next two or three years. So I can’t help being struck by the irony of the American media’s choice of subject matter.  And please do not interpret this as sour grapes.  I honestly don’t care where or even if my personal comments show up in the paper. I do care deeply about the future of my home and the larger world.  That future, clearly, is in real danger.  And we don’t have time to screw around waiting for it. That is the real message of the IPCC report.

I suppose I shouldn’t overlook the bright side, however.  Even in this reliably red state, most newspapers evidently no longer feel it is necessary to scrounge up a professional skeptic to provide some “balance” on the controversial topic of climate change. It appears, as Nancy Pelosi flatly stated when she took the helm of the House, that “that debate is over.”  The news is now about what we can expect locally, evidently accepting that the change is coming, although it may take some effort to drive home the IPCC’s latest message that change is coming much faster than previously estimated. 

Now, if we can just get people’s attention.


About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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