4 out of the 5 largest cities in Virginia are located in Hampton Roads. With a population of 1.7 million people, it makes up a large urban center in the Southern Chesapeake Bay Region. It serves as the east coast epicenter of U.S. military activity, with major Air Force, Marine Corps, Army, and Coast Guard facilities.
With all of that at stake, it’s not good news that this region has the highest rate of sea-level rise on the entire Atlantic Coast of the United States.
If sinking due to natural subsidence wasn’t enough, sea levels are also rising due to increased temperatures from global warming. It is important that we work to slow the flow of rising sea levels instead of accelerating it through over-reliance on dirty energy.
Between 1930 and 2012, sea levels in Norfolk and Virginia Beach rose by 14.5 inches, and are continuing to rise here in Virginia up to three times faster than other areas on the East Coast. Unfortunately Virginians are only just beginning to experience the intense flooding events that will result from this change, unlike other regions which have historically faced flooding. In the past 56 years, Norfolk’s flood rate has increased 320 percent, and residents are largely unprepared for this new reality.
With an average estimated rise in sea levels coming to a whopping 3.5 feet, a study conducted by ODU concludes that most of the following areas in Virginia will be at least partly submerged by the turn of the next century: Matthews, Gloucester, York, Poquoson, Hampton, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science says this could even happen by as early as 2060, a mere 44 years away (see below).
Even if sea levels only rise 3 feet, up to 176,124 Virginians will be displaced, according to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. For a sense of scale, this is roughly equivalent to 80% of Richmond’s population, the entire population of Alexandria, or 3.5 times the population of Charlottesville. In the face of these potentially devastating threats, very little is being done to stop the root cause of the looming disaster: global warming.
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency, with President Obama’s approval, proposed to cut national carbon emissions 30% by the year 2030 via the Clean Power Plan. The implementation of this plan will be a strong first step towards mitigating the effects of global warming on our coasts across the nation. While this remains tied up in the Supreme Court, Virginians can and should still take action. With surveys showing 86 percent of Virginia Beach residents agreeing that sea level rise “is a very important issue in the Virginia Beach area” and “requires immediate action be taken to deal with the effects” we need to call for the implementation of a strong state plan. To accomplish this, Virginians from all over the state must come together on the issue. This must be an initiative that stretches beyond party lines to protect our own coastline and the Virginians whose livelihoods are threatened by inaction.
While the situation may have a veneer of futility, Virginians can still work to mitigate sea level rise by cutting it off at the source. Working to cut carbon emissions by investigating in clean, renewable energy while simultaneously reinforcing our coastal infrastructure might just be the diversified approach we need to mitigate the impending threat. Our neighbors to the south have already invested heavily in a new solar economy: according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, North Carolina ranks 2nd in solar power production. Nine states across the country already derive 100% of new electrical capacity from solar energy. The technology to make the switch is available to us, we just need to take advantage of it.
Virginians must demand a solution to the rising sea levels on their very own coast; we cannot afford to wait any longer. A threat to one region of our commonwealth should be considered a threat to all of us. This is why I urge you to support the implementation of a strong state version of the Clean Power Plan by Governor McAuliffe. Investing in clean energy and our coastal infrastructure is our last chance to win the battle against this terrible threat and ensure a safer future for us all.