August 25, 2021: Resilient Virginia conference speakers outline steps being taken to adapt to climate change
Today’s installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement takes a slightly more direct approach on one single topic (mostly)
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On today’s show:
Highlights from the Resilient Recovery Conference being held by Resilient Virginia
That includes a broad overview of the link between transportation systems and climate change
University of Virginia Health moves to make COVID vaccination mandatory for employees
The COVID surge in Virginia continues with the seven-day average for positive tests increasing to 9.8 percent and another 3,453 new cases are reported today. The seven day average for new cases is at 2,731. At the same, the seven-day average for vaccination shots per day has risen to 15,011.
Officials at the University of Virginia Health System announced they would require all employees to become vaccinated, or to face disciplinary action. Wendy Horton is the Chief Executive Officer for the UVA Health System. (press release)
“Between now and November 1 we will be working with anybody that isn’t vaccinated to get vaccinated and that means for us fully vaccinated with the last dose of vaccination plus two weeks by November 1,” Horton said. “We feel that it’s really an important time to make this change with the delta variant and with the information that we know about the effectiveness of vaccines, we feel it’s an important step that we can take.”
As of today, 86 percent of the health system’s staff are vaccinated though that does not include contractors. The move comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration granted full authorization of the Pfizer vaccine.
The bulk of today’s show is coverage of a conference underway.
Resilient Virginia is a nonprofit formed in 1995 to help raise awareness of ways communities across the Commonwealth may need to adapt in response to any number of calamities that may come our way due to climate change. Heatwaves. Drought. Extreme rain. Invasive species.
Seven years ago, the organization changed its name from the Virginia Sustainable Building Network in order to put a sharper focus on the topic. This week they’re holding an online gathering they’re calling the Resilient Recovery Conference. Governor Ralph Northam kicked off the event this morning.
“Over the past sixteen months, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of comprehensive resiliency plans that address health, social, and economic concerns together with the increasing and significant impacts of climate change,” Northam said.
Northam said one of the top priorities in his one four-year term has been climate change. Individual initiatives include the Coastal Adaptation and Resilience Master Plan and the Community Flood Preparedness Fund. Virginia has joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
“Last year, I signed the Virginia Clean Economy Act into law,” Northam said. “Virginia is now one of just a few states and the first in the south to adopt a 100 percent clean electricity standard,” Northam said.
Northam signed Executive Order 24 in November 2018 to direct the administration to prepare for sea-level rise and other natural hazards. (read the order)
“The number of federally declared disasters has steadily increased nationally and in Virginia,” reads the order. “The number has experienced a 250 percent increase in federally declared disasters over the past 20 years, including declarations for flooding, hurricanes, severe storms, and wildfire.”
That order cites an earlier report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, one that is now outdated because the IPCC entity released another one earlier this month that suggests change is inevitable to the weather system we have known throughout our lives. We’ll hear that report being referenced throughout this show. (IPCC report)
“As these types of events become more frequent and more intense, so do the threats to public health and safety, our environment, and our economic well-being, including our courts, military installations, infrastructure, tourism, assets, farms, and forests,” Northam said.
Just before the event began, Northam’s press office announced that Dominion Energy will lease space from the Port of Virginia at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal as a staging area for wind turbines that will be erected 27 miles off of the coast of Virginia Beach. (press release)
Krystal Laymon is the deputy director for climate resilience of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She repeated the impacts of predicted climate change are being felt now.
“Over the past few years, the U.S. has seen the number of weather and climate disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion sky-rocket,” Laymon said. “From the years 2000 to 2009, there was an average of six disasters a year, each totaling a billion dollars. Last year alone, the United States faced 22 such events with a cumulative price tag in excess of $100 billion.”
Laymon said investment in mitigation before disaster strikes can save money, but acting now can also help to save lives. President Biden signed Executive Order 14,008 in February with the title “Tackling the Climate Crisis Home and Abroad.” (read the order)
“Every agency must be a climate change agency,” Laymon said. “A whole of government response ensures that the federal government presents a unified front on climate and considers climate resilience with every decision.”
The executive order established a national task force on climate change. That group’s fifth “readout” came just after the latest IPCC report. A particular concern is sea-level rise.
“It’s important to recognize that while coastal areas make up less than ten percent of the land area of the United States, they’re home to nearly 42 percent of the population,” Laymon said.
This week, volunteers across the country including Charlottesville are measuring the urban heat island effect. Laymon said extreme heat is another concern.
“The devastating heat waves are harming so many facets of people’s lives and the community,” Laymon said. “The urban heat island effect increases those vulnerabilities. In addition, extreme heat hits people’s wallets with increased energy costs which creates greater energy burden.”
Laymon also mentioned other initiatives such as Justice40, a program that seeks to ensure that 40 percent of federal investment in mitigation goes to disadvantaged communities. (read more)
In April, President Biden set an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (fact sheet)
“President Biden has set a new target of 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030,” Laymon said. “I’ll repeat that again. Fifty percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.”
Current targets for Albemarle and Charlottesville are to hit 45 percent of emissions by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2050. The University of Virginia seeks to be carbon neutral by 2030 and fossil free by 2050.
But that’s the future. Where are things now?
“The recent IPCC report on climate change showed that the sum amount of the climate change activities are already unavoidable,” Laymon said. “While we’re working to reduce carbon emissions, we need to prepare for the climate impacts that we are already seeing today.”
You’re listening to Charlottesville Community engagement, and an edition almost solely devoted to the first day of today’s Resilient Virginia conference. But, now, time for another subscriber supported public service announcement.
Do you ever look at a tree and wonder what kind it is? In September, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards will hold several identification walks in city parks for people who want to know more about the bark, leaves, and the flowers of our wooden neighbors. These walks are free, but you’ll have to register because groups are limited to 16.
September 5 at 11 a.m. at Pen Park (register)
September 11 at 11 a.m. at the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont (register)
September 24 at 11 a.m. at the University of Virginia (register)
Learn more at charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org.
One of the first panels dealt with one of my favorite subject areas - transportation.
Angela Conroy is the senior air quality planner with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
“We’re having this conversation this morning because the scientists have measured a one degree Celsius increase in global temperature,” Conroy said. “The increase in global temperature is being due to human related carbon dioxide emissions that have drastically risen over the past several decades.”
Transportation makes up a good portion of those emissions, and reforming the way we move around is intended to reverse the trend.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector is essential to curbing national and statewide emissions,” Conroy said. “Currently the mainstream strategies to achieve transportation decarbonization include; the deployment of light, medium, and heavy-duty zero emissions vehicles; the deployment of electric vehicle charging stations; investing in research, development, demonstration, and deployment efforts of new generation renewable fuels, particularly in the aviation sector.”
Conroy said other investments include transit as well and other ways to reduce overall vehicle miles traveled. She also said other tools will be required such as carbon sequestration, taking out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and reducing methane and other gases that contribute to the warming of the global atmosphere.
While attempts are made to reduce emissions, effects are also presenting themselves.
“Virginia climate change poses a significant threat to Virginia’s community infrastructure and the economy,” Conroy said. “The state has the highest rates of sea-level rise on the Atlantic seaboard with more than 34,000 buildings, 534 square miles of coastal land at risk of flooding by 2060.”
Some of the cost to prepare and adapt will be covered by Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Conroy said there have been two auctions so far in which various polluting agencies pay to exceed their allowed emissions allotment. (review all RGGI auction results)
“Two auctions in Virginia to date produced over $84 million of available revenue for flood mitigation and resiliency projects and for energy energy efficiency projects,” Conroy said. “Decarbonizing the electricity sector is absolutely necessary for decarbonizing transportation as well as buildings and the industrial sector.”
Virginia has also been tapping into its share of the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund, a fund created when that automaker was caught lying about some of its vehicles emission standards. About sixty million of the $93.6 million the Commonwealth has received has been awarded, including an announcement last week of the purchase of electric school buses, including two for Albemarle County.
Looking to the future, legislation passed the General Assembly this year to require the State Air Pollution Control Board to set up a low-emission and zero emission vehicles program to regulate tailpipe emissions in new vehicles. Conroy said over 60,000 electric vehicles sold in Virginia in June, the highest amount to date. (read the bill)
Another bill passed to create a rebate program for electric vehicles, but it has not yet been funded. Conroy said rapid deployment on many fronts is required if warming is to be kept below the 1.5 degrees Celsius figure.
So, that’s the view from the state level. What about the view of the state level from a regional perspective? Jeremy Holmes is the executive director of the Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission. That’s a group akin to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Before Holmes took on his current job, he ran a sustainable transportation program in that part of southwest Virginia.
“We actually worked with four other planning districts and covered a geography the size of the state of Massachusetts in Southwest Virginia so that included our urban centers of Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Blacksburg but as you can imagine most of what we dealt with was our rural communities, rural counties, cities and towns,” Holmes said.
Holmes said the economic shutdown that occurred at the beginning of the pandemic gives a glimpse into what could happen if people change behavior, but he was frank about the transportation problems facing rural Virginia.
“One of the fundamental things to remember is that these transportation systems are almost exclusively based on single occupant vehicle travel, so the infrastructure, the services, the locations of stuff almost entirely assume that you are getting to these places and accessing these services by yourself in your own motor vehicle,” Holmes said.
Holmes said this leaves many rural communities isolated. Many are already shrinking in population and in job opportunities.
“The impact here really is that people in order to access jobs and work now have to drive farther and farther than they did before,” Holmes said. “In Virginia, the Martinsville and Danville used to have the largest percentage of billionaires in the country driven by the furniture and textile industry. Now it’s one of the highest areas of poverty in the state and Martinsville and Danville commuters are commuting to Lynchburg, Roanoke, farther away, an hour each way. Which means they’re driving more, they’re driving by themselves and taking more time. They’re emitting more on these long trips and they’re more vulnerable.”
Vulnerable in particular to the volatility in fuel prices. Specialized health care is also located in urban areas. And, state transportation funding formulas and processes mean more funding goes to urban areas. That includes maintenance funds, which may lead to more damage as rainfall increases.
“These communities often have fragile infrastructure,” Holmes said. “They have relatively few roads, bridges that are way beyond when they should have been maintained, and surprises like sinkholes and things just waiting to happen as they address issues of flooding and storm surges and mudslides and that sort of thing.”
On the plus side, Holmes said telework and telehealth may be ways to reverse those trends if they can become more commonplace as the pandemic continues. He also said efforts to increase rural broadband may help with some kinds of trips. Holmes said many rural communities that have been on hard times might have more positive futures as the 21st century continues if there is investment.
“Our small communities have great bones,” Holmes said. “These are places that were built and lived in at a human scale for a long time. They still have that scale. There’s been huge disinvestment. Buildings are empty or abandoned or need a lot of work, but mostly the community scale is there so that if folks don’t have to drive long distances to get to things, the infrastructure is in place to revitalize these communities to places that people want to live and can have access services that they are now going out further to get to.”
We’ll have more from the Resilient Virginia conference over the next few weeks or so. There are two more days if you’re interested in purchasing a ticket. They are not a sponsor, hence this text is not italicized.