Opinion: Commentary: Steps to Fight Climate Change in Virginia

Opinion: Commentary: Steps to Fight Climate Change in Virginia

"Virginia is a state that is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which means that Virginia also has the opportunity to lead the country forward in finding holistic solutions to this problem. I have said before that climate change is one of the greatest threats to not just the 44th district but to our planet. Climate change is not only a health crisis, but it is also a threat to our Virginia economy and the preservation of our land for future generations to come. The decisions we make (or don’t make) in the face of this crisis today will be the consequences that our descendants will be faced with during the years ahead.

This administration has abdicated its leadership and responsibility to tackle the immense challenge of climate change. So, it is left to us as individuals and at the state and local government levels to do what we can to combat the problem and mitigate the damages caused by climate change. It is not just the far off peril you read about where icebergs are melting. In the 44th district, we experienced firsthand this summer a catastrophic July thunderstorm event that dumped more than 4 inches of rain in a single hour which flooded many homes and streets. Our community too is paying the price with once trickling creeks turning into deepening, dangerous ravines filled with trash, chemicals, and debris making its way into the Chesapeake Bay where it meets up with ever more pollutants.

Climate change’s impacts on our collective health are great. Higher temperatures increase the instances of asthma due to increased amounts of pollen in the air. According to the American Lung Association, about 160,000 children and 520,000 adults in Virginia live with asthma, which costs each person an average of $2,200 a year and results in approximately $75 million in lost work and school days. Here in Fairfax County, about 21,376 kids and 78,010 adults are living with asthma. Rising temperatures have also significantly increased the range of blacklegged ticks carrying Lyme disease, and mosquitoes carrying West Nile disease. In the past 20 years, the number of counties in Virginia with blacklegged ticks has increased from 12 to 72 (out of a total of 95), and they are now active earlier in the year, increasing opportunities for infection during the many outdoor activities that Virginians enjoy.

In addition to health concerns, climate change will be costly to Virginia’s economy. Due to rising temperatures over the next half-century, yields of Virginia’s staple crops of corn and soybeans are projected to decrease by 16% and 33%, respectively. This will cause a reduction in food availability, taking a toll on Virginia’s key agricultural industry. Ocean acidification, higher sea temperatures, and increased salinity are threatening Virginia’s precious Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay’s aquatic life and marine ecosystems. Many species of fish and shellfish are at risk of severe population declines, which will impact not only biodiversity but economic activity.

Virginia ranks in the top ten for clean energy jobs in the country, but our potential is far greater, and we should not be outpaced by our neighboring states. Virginia currently has over 4,200 jobs in the solar industry but ranks 34th in the country for per-capita solar jobs. North Carolina has twice as many solar jobs, and Maryland has 25% more. Every state on the Atlantic seaboard, except for Georgia and Pennsylvania, has more solar workers per capita than Virginia. Because of this, the Commonwealth is missing out on huge economic opportunities. In the past five years alone, nationwide solar employment increased 70%, adding 100,000 new jobs. Clean energy jobs outnumber fossil fuels jobs nearly three to one, and solar energy alone employs more than double the number of coal workers. We would do well to invest more in this rapidly growing industry, as it will be beneficial for the future of Virginia’s workers and the environment.

All this being said, the good news is that we have not reached the point of no return, and there are still many things that we can do to stop and even reverse some of the effects of climate change.

Unfortunately, this year’s budget bill effectively restricted the Commonwealth’s ability to participate in programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is a regional market for the trading of carbon dioxide allowances. Participation in this program could create over $200 million of revenue each year that could be used to mitigate climate change and assist Virginia communities in adapting to sea-level rise. In my next term, I will work to make sure that Virginia can participate in this initiative and reduce our carbon emissions. I also support measures such as providing tax rebates for Virginians who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or install solar panels, among other environmentally-friendly purchases. I would like to see Virginia invest in more clean energy and mass transit, and I would like to pass legislation to curb pollutants such as single-use plastics and styrofoam that contaminate our waterways and kill wildlife.

In our everyday lives there are several small, but important, steps we can take to reduce our pollution. First, we must properly recycle everything we can. Fairfax County has great resources available to learn about what can be recycled and how they can be turned in. Next, we can limit our usage of single-use items such as plastics and try to buy grocery bags that are reusable. You can create a compost pile in your backyard. Planting more trees in our communities is very helpful, as they work to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Additionally, you can make sure your home is properly insulated. Statistically, homes that are properly insulated use far less energy because they use less heat or air conditioning. I just replaced my old HVAC with a new energy star rated system to reduce my own footprint. These are just a few of the many measures that we can all take to minimize our fossil fuel usage. The changing climate affects us all and we all need to work together to combat it. The longer we take to limit our carbon footprint the more costly and painful it will be."