Does climate change impact Virginia?
While distant glaciers melting and homeless polar bears have been a major focus of the mainstream climate change dialogue, our home here in Virginia has not quite made it onto big lists and front page articles, until now. Let’s dig into the climate change conversation by looking at how the big picture is already impacting our neck of the woods by asking the big question, does climate change impact Virginia?
Before we get started, let’s keep in mind that this is a huge topic with a myriad of variables. The Earth is big with many different ecosystems, but still remains a single planet suspended in the vastness of space. These big changes may be more obvious in certain places, but everything on Earth will be impacted because we live on a single planet with many facets that are connected by the atmosphere, oceans, land, and the things that live here.
In order to understand the impacts in Virginia, we must first look at the big picture. NOAA and NASA have now confirmed that last May was the hottest in history. In fact, every May for the last 3 years has continued to be the warmest May’s on record. See a trend happening? Without decisive action, these figures and projections will continue into the future causing hotter and hotter May’s as the years pass by.
These temperature changes are impacting everything on Earth from sea level rise to the accelerated spread of diseases to intensifying storms and many other global impacts. A quick search on the internet will yield a plethora of information on how these changes are happening at every part of the planet and how experts are very concerned about these issues. Polar bears aside, there are a lot of living things that will be affected by this, including us humans.
So, how does Virginia play into all this? Well, the coastal areas are a great place to start the conversation. Virginia Beach has been ranked among the top 10 beaches worldwide that will be severely damaged by bigger storm surges. Also, Norfolk is now experiencing the fastest sea level rise on the entire East Coast. Nationally, Norfolk is in second place for sea level rise, right behind New Orleans.
Our coastal areas are home to a variety of species like crabs, fish, birds, and more. All of these animals help regulate the ecosystem. Marine life, plants, and water quality are all subject to the gradual, but powerful, impacts of climate change. In addition to those animals, we too are subject to these changes. Virginia Beach alone is home to nearly half a million people, and Norfolk has over 200,000 residents. This is just a fraction of the individuals that will be impacted on the East Coast.
Diseases, insurance rates, real estate planning, vacationing, agriculture, and nearly all other aspects of life in the coastal Virginia area will feel the pressure of climate change. The future of our state, our land, our rivers, our farms, and the next generation is in our hands. How we choose to act will determine how rapidly these changes will play out in the near and distant future. Regardless of what you’ve read or heard, the projected changes are set to happen over both short and long periods of time.
An open dialogue and an understanding of all the implications here are vital to our future as a state and ultimately as a civilization. The old adage is to think globally and act locally, right? So, the big question now is: how do we create a resilient Virginia?
Produced by Science Museum of Virginia under award # NA15SEC0080009 from the Environmental Literacy Grant (ELG) program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US Department of Commerce. Statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the museum and do not necessarily reflect views of NOAA or US Department of Commerce. Funded in part by Virginia Environmental Endowment.