Tag Archives: Climate change

What Climate Change Could Mean to Virginia


As temperatures rise (assuming that they do), will there be coherent paths for species to migrate north? This map shows areas where such migrations might occur, if not disrupted by human activity.

by James A. Bacon

The political debate over catastrophic global warming won’t end until the climate either fulfills the dire forecasts of mainstream climate scientists or refuses to cooperate, thus disproving them. Stephen Paul Nash’s book, “Virginia Climate Fever,” is not likely to change many minds on that score. But if you’re wondering how global warming — if it occurs — might affect Virginia’s climate, Nash presents a sobering picture that should inform the thinking of every Virginian. If he’s right, the commonwealth’s environmental future looks grim indeed.

This may be the most important book written about Virginia’s environment in a generation. Nash, a journalism professor at the University of Richmond, makes the scientific debate over global warming readily accessible to the layman. He writes beautifully, explains the issues clearly, and he anticipates many of the arguments of the Global Warming skeptics. For this book, he traveled the length and breadth of Virginia, from the peak of Mount Rogers, with its threatened oasis of cold-adapted spruce-and-fir forest, to sixty miles off the coast where researchers are studying the marine life of underwater canyons. He synthesizes the work of dozens of scientists working on one part or another of Virginia’s climate change, creating a fuller picture than any of them could on their own. (Full disclosure: Steve is one of my closest friends.)

Broadly speaking, Nash says Global Warming (and the rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that drives it) raises three major concerns:

(1) Temperatures are increasing faster than at any time in millions of years, a trend that threatens to outpace the ability of new species to migrate to hospitable ecosystems. Global warming, he suggests, could create a terrible synergy with acid rain, invasive species and the fragmentation of wildlife habitat leading to the extinction of many plant and animal populations and, indeed, of entire species. If existing species are wiped out and new species are slow to migrate north to replace them, America’s once-magnificent Southeast forests could be replaced with a barren savannah.

(2) Rising concentrations of CO2 will acidify the oceans and stress marine life. This problem, incidentally, occurs independently from temperature change. No one disputes the fact that CO2 levels are rising and that acidification stresses marine life; the only debate (of which I’m familiar) is the extent to which marine species can adapt to acidification. In either case, the impact of acidification in the Cheasapeake Bay is magnified by warming waters, overfishing and excess nutrients dumped into the watershed.

(3) Rising sea levels will subject large swaths of the Tidewater to increasing flooding and, ultimately, permanent inundation. Some of the flooding can be attributed to subsidence of the land in response to the retreat of Ice Age glaciers thousands of years ago and will continue, regardless of what happens to global temperatures. If warming occurs, melting icecaps and heating the water — warm water occupies slightly more space than cold — climate change will accelerate the encroachment of the sea upon the land that’s already taking place.

Nash deals with other issues as well, from the impact of temperatures on rainfall and agricultural productivity to the spread of mosquito-borne disease.

My purpose here is not to re-argue the case for and against catastrophic global warming, a topic upon which most people already have firm views and are not likely to change their minds. (For the record, I’m inclined to believe that the planet will continue to warm at a slow-but-steady pace, as it has since the end of the Little Ice Age, but far less rapidly than the catastrophic scenarios called for in the more apocalyptic literature.)

Nash’s valuable contribution that even skeptics should appreciate is to provide a close-up look at environmental risks that Virginia faces. Based on the 18-year pause in rising temperatures, forecast by none of the warmists’ climate models, I don’t see the worst-case scenario transpiring. But Nash makes an excellent point. Let’s assume temperatures and sea levels won’t reach the predicted horror-scenario levels by 2100. It may take a few decades longer than currently anticipated to get there. (Maybe a century longer, in my estimation.) But we’ll get there eventually. We should take advantage of that time to build more resilient communities.

In my view, the tragedy of politics in Virginia is that nearly all public policy is devoted to the proposition that by reducing local greenhouse gas emissions, Virginians can have a meaningful impact on global temperatures. Virginia could revert to stone-age levels of zero greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, and the savings would offset the increase in CO2 from coal-fired power plants built in India and China in a year! (OK, maybe not a year, but over a very short period of time.) The point is, the commonwealth and its citizens are investing billions of dollars in LEED-certified buildings, renewable energy, mass transit, electric cars and a host of other saintly endeavors whose collective impact upon global temperatures may be measurable in one-hundredths of a degree over the next century. Continue reading

Diet Denier

Perhaps you could call Nina Teicholz a “diet denier.” The journalist and author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Health Diet,” is part of the growing backlash against a half century-long orthodoxy that aimed to limit fat and cholesterol in the American diet. That orthodoxy, which ruled the medical establishment and the federal health apparatus, unwittingly engineered a society-wide shift to the sugar-heavy diet now deemed responsible for the surge in obesity and heart disease that afflicts the country.

In her book, Teicholz delved into the history of how fats, trans-fats and cholesterol came to be demonized and how public policy strove to drive fats out of the American diet. The movement began in the 1950s with a famous study by Ancel Keys, which postulated a link between cholesterol and heart health. The American Heart Association jumped on the bandwagon in 1961, the United States Department of Agriculture issued new dietary guidelines in 1978, and momentum built from there. Food companies rolled out low-fat, low-cholesterol food products, typically substituting sugar and salt for fat. Pharmaceutical companies introduced anti-cholesterol drugs. Schools and media brainwashed generations of Americans to change their behavior.

How could things have gone so wrong? As Teicholz explains in her TED talk above:

The same group of people were on all the expert panels. They all reviewed each others’ papers. These groups controlled all of the funding, so if you didn’t get on this cholesterol bandwagon, you couldn’t get funding, you couldn’t do research, you couldn’t be a scientist. Over the course of 25 years, this diet-heart hypothesis became ingrained in the institutions. There became an institutional bias. There was a bias in the media. And everybody lined up behind this hypothesis. You couldn’t be a scientist if you didn’t get on board.

Thankfully, a new generation of scientists questioned the orthodoxy. Now researchers are focusing on the excess consumption of sugar as the main culprit responsible for our dietary woes.

Fortunately, we’ve learned from our mistakes. Our scientific, media and government officials would never enforce another orthodoxy on the grounds that “97 percent of all scientists” in a given field agree that “the science is settled.”  We’d never rig the peer-review process to suppress unpopular scientific viewpoints. We’d never channel billions of dollars of federal funding into supporting one particular point of view of a massively complex phenomenon while de-funding dissenters. We’d never demonize skeptics as “anti-science,” tools of evil, self-interested corporations and moral analogues of holocaust deniers. We’re far too enlightened in the United States to ever let that happen.

Or are we?


A Timely Reminder of the Anti-Agenda 21 Distraction

agenda21by James A. Bacon

Here in Virginia, the anti-Agenda 21 zealots have managed to stay out of the headlines for quite a while. I don’t know if that’s because they are quietly re-energizing themselves or if the movement is falling apart. But it never hurts to be reminded of the bizarre nature of this populist splinter group, which has done so much to obfuscate the issues surrounding growth and development in Virginia and distract from the task of articulating a positive, forward-thinking set of conservative principles to guide governance at the local-government level.

That reminder comes from a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Agenda 21: the U.N. Sustainability and Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory.” The report documents how the anti-Agenda 21 movement, which regards the Agenda 21 project of the United Nations as a radical environmentalist plot to deprive Americans of their property rights and way of life, has thrived on the paranoid fringe of conservative thought.

Lead author Heidi Beirich documents the spread of anti-Agenda thinking from its fountainhead, Tom DeWeese, head of the American Policy Center in Remington, Va., to the Constitution Party, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the John Birch Society, neo-Nazis and all manner of obscure, grass-roots organizations. Many of these are groups that mainstream conservatives do not want to be associated with. Indeed, many are a downright embarrassment to conservatives, for their ideological affinity for small government allows liberals and progressives to paint the broader small-government movement as a collection of cranks and weirdos.

Nowhere is that dynamic more damaging, however, than the debate over Climate Change, the very issue that animates the anti-Agenda 21 populists, because an inordinate fear of global warming underpins many liberal/progressive initiatives in the realm of transportation, zoning and land use.

In truth, there are legitimate questions relating to how global temperatures are measured and calculated. There are issues regarding how much global warming can be attributed to human activity and regarding the efficacy of the climate-model projections that underpin climate alarmism. There is disagreement over the extent to which global warming will harm humanity and the environment. And then there are questions outside the realm of science regarding how best to respond to the challenge of climate change — re-engineering the modern industrial economy to limit CO2 emissions or simply adapting to change if and when it occurs. But of all the issues that serious people raise about climate change orthodoxy, the existence of an international conspiracy to impose the United Nation’s sustainability/social justice agenda upon the American people is not one of them.

I addressed the flaws in the anti-Agenda 21 thinking (it is too incoherent to dignify with the appellation of a “theory”) two months ago in a white paper, “A Distracting Doctrine.” The anti-Agenda 21 literature is replete with cherry-picked data, leaps of logic and an astonishing lack of awareness of conflicting information. This scatter-shot body of thought is so embarrassingly unpersuasive that it actually harms the cause of other skeptics mounting a serious case against climate alarmism.

Worst of all, the anti-Agenda 21 movement is an immense distraction. Focusing on a supposed conspiracy is a losing proposition: first, because there is no conspiracy and it is difficult to persuade people to believe in something that does not exist; second, because global warming orthodoxy has many demonstrable weaknesses that people should be talking about but aren’t, in part because they’re distracted by Agenda 21; and third, because the anti-Agenda 21 movement offers no solutions to the challenges of local government in the 21st century.

The Agenda 21 contras have nothing useful to say about how Virginia regions and local governments should address the challenges of fiscal stress, congested roads and highways, quality of life, local environmental degradation and other issues affected by our built environment. The liberal/progressive answer, driven by a conviction that climate change is a threat demanding the investment of billions of dollars to reduce CO2 emissions, is to strive for environmental sustainability. As I have argued on this blog, conservatives should hammer on the themes of fiscal responsibility, livability, economic development and local environmental issues like air and water pollution. It’s hard to do that when the anti-Agenda 21 crowd is attracting attention by swatting at figments of their imagination.

Smart Growth: A Good Idea even without Climate Change


The percentage of Americans who worry about climate change. Graphic credit: Gallup.

by James A. Bacon

To a large degree, the Smart Growth movement in the United States has hitched its wagon to catastrophic human-caused climate change as the primary justification for building walkable, mixed-use, transit-friendly human settlement patterns. Off and on, I have warned that the emphasis on global warming could be a political mistake. If the American people stop fretting about climate change, the No. 1 justification for Smart Growth goes out the window.

Now comes data from Gallup showing (a) that climate change ranks the second lowest (after race relations) among the 15 major issues that Americans the polling company tracks, and (b) the percentage who worry “a great deal” has dropped to the lowest level since 2001, when Gallup began tracking the issue.

Take a look at the Gallup graph above. Climate change is something Americans worry about more when times are good and concerns about jobs and the economy recede to the background. Interest in the issue took a dive after the 2002 and 2007 recessions, as one would expect. But climate change has been fading to the back of the mind in the past two years as well — even as the economy enters its sixth year of slow-but-steady economic growth.

Gallup doesn’t tell us why this change is happening. My guess it has something to do with the fact that 17 years of stable global temperatures don’t square with the more apocalyptic alarms of the environmental movement. The Global Warming crowd assures us that the pause is only temporary and that temperatures will shoot higher any time now. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I’m not a soothsayer, so I can’t say.

What I can say is that Smart Growth is too important to be held hostage to the fluctuation in global temperatures. Even if the world slipped into another mini-ice age, there still would be very good reasons to support Smart Growth. I urge believers in walkable urbanism to cast their intellectual nets a little wider. One good place to start (aside from Bacon’s Rebellion, of course), is to start checking the Smart Growth for Conservative blog, which aggregates the thinking of contributors from around the country who write from fiscal conservative or free-market perspectives. We’ll be laying out a conservative case, whichever way the wind blows… or the thermometer goes.

Visualizing the Unthinkable

Worst-case "Sandtrina" inundation scenario for south Hampton Roads.

Worst-case “Sandtrina” inundation scenario for south Hampton Roads. Red dots are inundated, green dots above water.

by James A. Bacon

Combine the power of a Katrina-scale hurricane with the geographic proximity of a Hurricane Sandy, aim it at Hampton Roads, and what do you get? Old Dominion University professors Joshua G. Behr and Rafael Diaz cranked up their supercomputer to visualize what might happen.

A “Sandtrina” catastrophe would extend way beyond the loss to houses, buildings, roads and infrastructure to include widespread disruption to the economy and the health care system, they explain in Hurricane Preparedness: Community Vulnerability and Medically Fragile Populations,” published in the latest edition of the Virginia Newsletter.

Do not confuse this issue with Global Warming (GW). Behr and Diaz, who work at ODU’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center, were not simulating the impact of hypothesized GW-induced sea level rise, as others have done. The phrases “climate change” and “global warming” never appear in their paper. They were simulating an event that, though statistically unlikely, is within the bounds of experience in the United States and could happen to Hampton Roads.

I have no competence to critique the modeling methodology underlying the Behr-Diaz simulations, but I do believe they deserve credit for broadening their analysis beyond a simple calculation of property damage. They also map financial and medical vulnerability of the Hampton Roads population, recognizing that some households are too poor to effectively prepare for a lengthy hurricane-caused disruption and that some have medical needs that may go unmet after a disaster.

“Resilience,” referring to the ability of communities to recover from disasters, is all the rage among GW believers, but it would be a mistake for conservatives to dismiss the concept out of hand. The Behr-Diaz simulations make it clear that the concept is very relevant right now. Conservatives should take the lead in devising ways to make Virginia communities more resilient to natural disaster. One good place to start: Curtail federal insurance subsidies that encourage people to build in flood-prone coastal areas. Another idea: Encourage development either in higher-elevation areas or in low-elevation areas that can be hardened against a massive storm surge.

Virginia Missing from White House Climate Conversation

Flooded street in Norfolk during Hurricane Sandy.

Flooded street in Norfolk during Hurricane Sandy.

by Rachel Cannon

On November 1st, 2013, President Obama signed an Executive Order “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change” – the newest addition to the Administration’s Climate Action Plan. One part of the Executive Order establishes the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience: a collection of state, local and tribal leaders from across the country who will serve as advisors to the government on building climate preparedness and resilience in their communities.

This is a great idea – so what is the problem? Scanning the list of Task Force members reveals a glaring omission: Among all of these names, there is not a single representative from Virginia. Why not? Other east coast states, including Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, are represented. One state (California) has not one, not two, but three representatives on the Task Force.

Virginia, particularly coastal Virginia, needs to be a part of this.

The Task Force was created to advise, based on first-hand experiences, on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities that are dealing with the impacts of climate change.In part, it will help agencies assist cities and towns to build “smarter and stronger,” identifying and removing barriers to investing in resilience. In other words, the Task Force will tell the government how it can help these communities prepare for and survive climate-change-fueled disasters.

Virginia, especially the Tidewater region, faces tremendous and unique threats from climate change. Moreover, communities such as Norfolk have been battling damaging weather events, not to mention storm surges and relentless flooding, for years. Virginia research institutions, such as the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), have developed superb research on best practices and implementation. Insights from our region’s community leaders are invaluable and irreplaceable to the White House’s efforts. With no Virginians on the Task Force, who can speak on Virginia’s behalf? Maryland? Delaware? How could they? The region faces unique concerns, and must offer its correspondingly unique perspective.

Although storms and sea level rise are only some of many concerns the Administration hopes to address, they are significant, and Virginia can help. First, the predicted effects of climate change on the state are tremendous. Virginia’s Tidewater region has one of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the country. NOAA predicts there will be almost two feet of local sea level rise over the next 100 years at Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel – the highest increase on the east coast. VIMS estimates that over the next 20-50 years, the Hampton Roads area could experience up to a 1.5-foot increase in sea level rise. Over 80% of the Virginia coastline is considered at “high” or “very high” risk from sea level rise. According to one estimate, 19,000 people in Norfolk and 40,000 people in Virginia Beach live below the 100-year flood level, ranking Norfolk among the five most vulnerable U.S. cities to harm from hurricanes.

Recent weather events like hurricanes have been unprecedented both in frequency and severity (consider the 4-foot storm surge in Hurricane Irene in 2011). What’s worse, the region’s land is sinking as sea level rises. The cruel trifecta of sea level rise, subsidence, and these extreme weather events, threaten to leave a much of cities like Norfolk under water. When (not if) a hurricane like Sandy touches down in Virginia, it will jeopardize homes, lives, critical infrastructure, not to mention the enormous federal investment in Naval operations. The economic and human harm in the region threatens to be astronomical.

Most importantly, Virginia is working to prepare for these forecasted harms. Leaders in Hampton Roads have expressed their desire to work with state and federal government on climate change in the region. A recent conference on adaptive planning for sea level rise in the region reached maximum capacity, with legislators, local leaders, and researchers coming together to discuss the challenges facing coastal Virginia, and how they can move forward to protect our cities and citizens.

To many, it only seems like a matter of time until Virginia’s perspective shifts from preparation to restoration, unless the region gets attention and assistance from federal resources. Entire communities are at risk, and are waiting to be heard. If the White House wants to learn from communities that are taking steps to protect themselves from extreme weather and other impacts from climate change, Virginia needs to be part of that conversation.

Rachel Cannon is a student at the College of William & Mary Law School, class of 2014.

Renewable Portfolio Standards: To Mandate or Not to Mandate?

Renewable wind-powered turbines off the New Zealand coast.

Wind-powered turbines off the New Zealand coast.

This blog posting represents the first in a debate series developed by authors of Bacon’s Rebellion and Blue Virginia on actions that Virginians can take to address climate change.   All articles will be simultaneously posted on both blogs.

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are laws or regulations designed to increase the percentage of energy made from renewable sources. This change is intended to reduce pollution including the CO2 emissions responsible for global climate change. Renewable portfolio standards are usually directed at electrical generation companies. RPS regulations vary from state to state. There are no federal RPS rules.

A typical RPS specifies a percentage of electricity in a state that will be generated from renewable sources by some time in the future. For example, California has an RPS of 33% of its electricity generated by renewable inputs by 2020. Renewable portfolio standards may be either mandatory standards or voluntary goals.

Presently, 29 US states have mandatory RPSs. Eight states have voluntary RPS goals. Thirteen states have no RPS regulation.

Virginia is among the eight states that have adopted voluntary RPS goals.  The Commonwealth has set an RPS goal to generate 15% of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025.  This goal is one of the least ambitious among the 37 states that have RPS standards or goals.

RPS regulations are controversial. In the recent Virginia governor’s race Terry McAuliffe supported a move to make Virginia’s RPS mandatory and to increase the percentage of electricity produced from renewable sources from 15% to 25%. Ken Cuccinelli opposed McAuliffe’s plan claiming that mandatory RPS legislation would raise electricity prices and eliminate jobs. However, both Ken Cuccinelli and Virginia environmental groups agree that the existing RPS legislation has been ineffective.

The question before the debaters is this: Should Virginia make its RPS standard mandatory?

Yes – Leading Virginia to a Clean Energy Future
Lowell Feld and “Kindler,” Blue Virginia

The U.S. government is at its most effective when it sets big, forward-looking goals for society – sending a man to the moon, overcoming the Great Depression, eliminating slavery, creating the national parks system.  In each of these cases, we could have said: “no problem, the free market will take care of it!”  But that wouldn’t have gotten the job done, and all of us would have been worse off as a result. 

The ongoing battle against global climate change, caused largely by   the use of fossil fuels, is a classic case of systemic “market failure” necessitating strong governmental action to correct it. In this case, most of the enormous environmental, health and social costs of fossil fuels are simply unaccounted for in their price.  So fossil fuels are priced far lower than they would be if those costs were accounted for — meaning that the oil, gas and coal industries get a free lunch, while we pay for all the damage they cause.

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) are a highly effective way to begin to level the playing field in ways that make it easier for renewable energy sources to compete.  But since it requires the government to take a stand, we can already hear our conservative friends saying  NO: government must not interfere with the “free market,” government must not “pick winners and losers”,  government screws up everything it touches, we should let the market figure it all out.  So let’s just be clear on  a few key points: Read more.

Yes – Fossil, Nukes Got Support, Why Not Renewables?
Peter Galuszka, Bacon’s Rebellion

Virginia is typically behind the rest of the country when it comes to addressing new problems and finding solutions. Renewable energy is yet another example.

In the middle part of the past decade, undeniable evidence of the threat of climate change became obvious across the globe. A movement began to shepherd a shift to renewable energy-sources – solar, wind, geothermal and others —  by passing laws making it mandatory that utilities obtain a specific percentage of their energy from such sources by set deadlines.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia  — including all of Virginia’s neighbors -– joined the movement for Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) as have other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Poland and Belgium. True to form and genuflecting to big business interests, Virginia made its RPS voluntary. Read more.

No — How a Renewable Portfolio Standard in Virginia Will Punish Electric Customers and Erode Competitiveness
James A. Bacon, Bacon’s Rebellion

What would Henry Howell think of Virginia’s liberals and progressives today? Howell, the populist candidate whose watchword was “Keep the big boys honest,” came within a whisker’s width of defeating the conservative Mills Godwin in the 1973 race for governor. The “big boys” against whom he railed were the senior executives of Virginia’s electric power companies and their minions around the state. The 1970s were a period of soaring electricity prices, and Howell championed the cause of the little guy who saw his paycheck eroded by higher electric bills.

There is no way to know what “Howling” Henry would think of modern-day liberals and progressives if he were alive today, but there is a good chance he would be dismayed by their push for a mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in Virginia. In contrast to the voluntary goal in place today, a mandatory standard would require power companies to derive a major share of their electric-generating capacity from renewable fuels such as solar, wind or biomass. The reason it is necessary to mandate the use of these power sources is that they are far more expensive than fossil fuels. Mandating an RPS would add billions of dollars to the rate base of Dominion, AEP and the smaller power companies, resulting in higher electric bills for all Virginians.

A new, multibillion-dollar industry of politically connected insiders – ethanol producers, wind generators, solar power producers, electric car manufacturers — has arisen around the renewable movement on the grounds that the United States and Virginia need to reduce fossil fuel combustion and carbon-dioxide emissions implicated in global warming. Rather than compete on the basis of cost, these rent seekers work the political system to force their uneconomic technologies upon a reluctant populace. They are the unaccountable Big Boys of the early 21st century but there is no Henry Howell to keep them honest. Read more.

Moonrise at Murrell’s Inlet

murrell's inlet
The water and sky are spectacular down here on the South Carolina coast. No sign of global warming this week — temperatures were blessedly and unseasonably cool yesterday.

Good thing the Bacons aren’t adventure kayaking in the Arctic this summer. According to the Danish Meteorological Institute, the extent of Arctic sea ice is 50% greater this month than the same time last year (which might explain the lack of hysterical stories this summer about the melting icecap). Meanwhile, polar bears are thriving (which may explain the paucity of articles about the imminent demise of polar bears).

Maybe Peter G. should turn his investigative eye from the politicization of data at local econometric firms to the politicization of data at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Oh, I forgot, people who think like Peter never politicize data. Only conservatives do that!

Actually, Michael Mann, whom Peter portrays as a paragon of scientific integrity, is the textbook illustration of someone who politicizes science. Christopher Monckton, a well-known “denier,” touches just the highlights of his offenses in a letter addressed to the Times-Dispatch. Even by Warmist standards, Mann is an outspoken, leftist outlier. His credibility is eroding faster than a Greenland glacier in August.


Oysters and Other Biological Breakwaters

chesapeake_oystersBroadly speaking, there are two ways to go about buttressing Virginia’s waterfront communities from flooding, storm surges and other risks associated with rising water levels: with hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure. Hard infrastructure consists of walls, levees, berms, jetties, pipes, pumps, sand replenishment and other expensive, engineered solutions. Soft infrastructure entails building up of biological systems that absorb water and buffer against pounding waves. A combination of both probably will be needed to protect Virginia’s fragile coastline. As always, the question asked by Bacon’s Rebellion is this: Which measures are the most cost-effective?

A new article just published in Nature publishes national maps showing which sections of the U.S. coastline will have the greatest exposure to rising sea levels and degraded coastal ecosystems by the year 2100, based on models from the National Climate Assessment. (The National Climate Assessment takes as a starting point the notion that human-caused climate change will lead to disastrous sea-level rises, so if you find the whole Global Warming thing to be a trifle alarmist, you can discount some, but not all, of what I’m about to tell you.)

In one of the five sea level-rise scenarios explored by the authors, the Chesapeake Bay fares relatively well by comparison to other East and Gulf Coast shorelines. Indeed, other than Florida and Maine, the Bay and its southern neighbors, the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, appear to be among the least vulnerable spots on the East Coast. Such an assessment is entirely relative, of course: Significant stretches of the Bay are ranked “highest” in the article’s hazard index.

Graphic credit: Nature.

Graphic credit: Nature. (Click for larger image.)

The article factors in “the presence of protective offshore habitats; the type of shoreline (beach, cliff, etc.); and the spot’s exposure to wind, waves, and other weather,” summarizes Tim McDonnell for the Atlantic Cities blog. (The Nature article hides behind a pay wall; read the blog for a somewhat more detailed account than the magazine’s preview.) One thing Virginia’s coastline has is a lot of wetlands. But our natural, biological defenses probably could be strengthened.

Oysters on the whole shell. Which brings us to an interesting, if underplayed story here in Virginia…. The Commonwealth is spending $2 million to mine fossilized oyster shells from beneath the James River as part of the greatest oyster replenishment initiative in state history. By the end of the month, the state will have deployed an estimated 1 million bushels (containing roughly 1 billion individual empty oyster shells) on state-owned public oyster grounds. It is hoped that naturally occurring oyster larvae will attach to the shells during spawning and grow to adulthood.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission calculates that every $1 spent by the state yields $7 in direct economic benefits in the form of larger oyster harvests that create jobs for harvesters, shuckers, packers and shippers. Then there are hard-to-quantify environmental benefits. One adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. Oyster reefs also provide habitat for other species, notes a press release from the governor’s office.

Last but not least, oyster reefs along shorelines have value as breakwaters, dissipating the energy from pounding waves. If Virginians want to protect their communities from rising sea levels (whether due to geological subsidence or melting glaciers), restoring the Chesapeake’s once-prolific oyster reefs could well provide more economic bang for the buck than any other alternative.


Climate Alarmists Admit: They’re Flummoxed

warmingby James A. Bacon

Well, well, well, Justin Gillis with the New York Times has acknowledged an inconvenient truth: “The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace.”

What is a climate alarmist to make of such a revelation? Gillis admits that climate scientists are stumped. (I may be wrong about this, but I do not believe that the New York Times is subsidized or controlled by the climate change-denying Koch Brothers, so Gillis’ reporting cannot be impugned.)

The slowdown is a bit of a mystery to climate scientists. … Given how much is riding on the scientific forecast, the practitioners of climate science would like to understand exactly what is going on. They admit that they do not, even though some potential mechanisms of the slowdown have been suggested. The situation highlights important gaps in our knowledge of the climate system, some of which cannot be closed until we get better measurements from high in space and from deep in the ocean.

Despite the “important gaps in our knowledge of the climate system,” Gillis remains ever-optimistic that the world climate remains on a disastrous trajectory. One theory for the lull in rising temperatures is that “aerosols” — particulate pollution — from China are reflecting sunlight that otherwise would have warmed the atmosphere. Another is that the heat is hiding in the ocean deep, where our sensors cannot readily detect it.

The stubborn refusal of temperatures to rise as forecast by climate models may mean that climate processes are a tad more complex than previously thought. “In a climate system still dominated by natural variability,” Gillis writes, “there is every reason to think the warming will proceed in fits and starts.”

If past is prologue, this current plateau will end at some point, too, and a new era of rapid global warming will begin. That will put extra energy and moisture into the atmosphere that can fuel weather extremes, like heat waves and torrential rains.

We might one day find ourselves looking back on the crazy weather of the 2010s with a deep yearning for those halcyon days.

A man can always dream, can’t he? It’s hard to imagine a fate worse than being forced to concede that Rush Limbaugh was right!

In all seriousness, do 15 years of stagnant temperatures prove that global warming is a hoax? Not at all. Gillis actually might be right on this point: The lull may reflect natural variability. The points that I would emphasize are this: (1) The stagnant temperatures were not predicted by the climate models, and (2) our understanding of climate dynamics is incomplete.

It would be folly to conclude on the basis of current evidence that human-influenced global warming is not occurring. As I’ve always said, follow the science. But one conclusion I feel safe in drawing is this: The science is not “settled.”