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Virginia Climate Fever

Virginia Climate Fever: How Global Warming Will Transform Our Cities, Shorelines, and Forests

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Virginia Climate Fever
    Book Description:

    Climate disruption is often discussed on a global scale, affording many a degree of detachment from what is happening in their own backyards. Yet the consequences of global warming are of an increasingly acute and serious nature.

    InVirginia Climate Fever,environmental journalist Stephen Nash brings home the threat of climate change to the state of Virginia. Weaving together a compelling mix of data and conversations with both respected scientists and Virginians most immediately at risk from global warming's effects, the author details how Virginia's climate has already begun to change. In engaging prose and layman's terms, Nash argues that alteration in the environment will affect not only the state's cities but also hundreds of square miles of urban and natural coastal areas, the 60 percent of the state that is forested, the Chesapeake Bay, and the near Atlantic, with accompanying threats such as the potential spread of infectious disease. The narrative offers striking descriptions of the vulnerabilities of the state's many beautiful natural areas, around which much of its tourism industry is built.

    While remaining respectful of the controversy around global warming, Nash allows the research to speak for itself. In doing so, he offers a practical approach to and urgent warning about the impending impact of climate change in Virginia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3659-8
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-7)

    It’s just before sunrise, the moment when the Earth stops cooling but has not yet warmed, so the air is still. I can hear an approaching freight train as it mutters along in a slow crescendo, a few miles away. About a dozen trains come through here each day, and their burden is coal more than anything else, pulled east off the longwall seams and out of the rubble of the “mountaintop removal” strip mines of the Virginias.

    Down at the crossing near my house, the rails arrow toward Richmond and the coast, and back the other way to Charlottesville...

    (pp. 8-20)

    Some of Thomas Jefferson’sNotes on the State of Virginia, published in 1782, sounds more than a little familiar: “A change in our climate however is taking place very sensibly,” Jefferson wrote. “Both heats and colds are become much more moderate within the memory even of the middle-aged. Snows are less frequent and less deep. They do not often lie, below the mountains, more than one, two, or three days, and very rarely a week. They are remembered to have been formerly frequent, deep, and of long continuance. The elderly inform me the earth used to be covered with snow...

    (pp. 21-35)

    I once attended a workshop for journalists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. I listened while an earnest physicist explained the mainsprings, cogs, and calipers of the various climate models for North America. A reporter for a small paper in Bay City, Michigan, finally raised his hand and asked one of those simple but incisive questions: “What’s it going to look like when I step out onto the back porch in forty years?”

    Exactly. We want to know how hot it will get, how wet or dry, how much extreme weather there will be, and when...

    (pp. 36-41)

    Not that it attracts much attention here in a picnic park along the suburban shore of the Severn River, but the scene is more than a little askew. On a drowsy, late-June morning on this Chesapeake tributary, there’s the expected casual line-up of kayaks and Zodiacs, a high-schooler mowing the grass, some pleasure craft bobbing at anchor.

    But the picnic tables are laden with an assortment of notebooks and odd tools. Some purposeful college students have unloaded tall green pressure tanks and meters that could be mistaken for a welding kit, and installed them in a 5-foot plastic tub under...

    (pp. 42-49)

    The research vesselRonald H. Brownis rolling a little, out ahead on the waves an hour east of Norfolk. It’s a fogged-in, late-spring morning, and at least one of us is a little seasick as we approach on our small, plunging commuter boat. We’re here to retrieve about a dozen scientists who have mapped the ocean floor for the past three weeks and studied a group of mysterious and little-known animals, some of them a mile below the surface.

    Virginia’s economic claim on offshore resources—oil- and gas-drilling revenues, for example—extends 3 miles from land. It is shared...

    (pp. 50-59)

    The trail to the top of Mount Rogers meanders over a couple of jutting rock ridges, then crosses a grassy bald and a few patches of conifers. On some days it also leads past shaggy wild ponies, so often admired by hikers that they’re pouty, though they will condescend to eat an apple if you have one. Then the trail climbs into broken shade under a wind-battered canopy of red spruce and Fraser fir. It’s often foggy and frigid here. Rain and snow are frequent. At 5,729 feet, the summit is the highest point in Virginia, and the mountain is...

    (pp. 60-70)

    Animated maps show the slow-motion metamorphosis of the forest on the long reaches of eastern North America as the grip of the last ice age weakened. You can dial in a tree species and then watch as the millennia flip past, the blankness of the continental ice sheet retreats, and clouds of fir, beech, oak, or pine pulse northward, responding to the pressure of a warming climate. The maps are based on the faintest of traces in the stratified mud of remote ponds and bogs.

    In Virginia, one of these troves of ancient natural history is hidden within a mountain...

    (pp. 71-86)

    I’ve found the place to “build the home of your dreams!” It’s described just that way on the real estate listing here in front of me, and on countless others for Virginia waterside properties. They are a dreamscape, indeed: a queasy mix of sleep, hope, mirage, paralysis—life on a momentarily serene yet precarious view lot.

    That prospective half acre is on Sandfiddler Road in the community of Sandbridge, near the southern limits of Virginia Beach. It’s for sale just now at $699,995, and it faces the Atlantic, right on the beach with an ocean view, from a few feet...

  13. 9 POKER
    (pp. 87-100)

    Those not-too-distant horizons—and the difficult choices they pose—seemed nearer as I headed down Princess Anne Road one afternoon with the planner Clay Bernick, the administrator of Virginia Beach’s Environmental Sustainability Office. Its 440,000 inhabitants make this city on the Atlantic at the mouth of the Chesapeake the largest in the state. We rolled east and south down a gentle gradient toward the water and talked about the sea level rise that is coming the other way.

    “Most of us want to live here on the coast,” Bernick said, “but in southern Virginia Beach your average elevations might run...

    (pp. 101-114)

    A heavy, steel-gray fan shell, wider than the palm of my hand, is within easy reach on the sill near my desk. It’s a gracefully fluted specimen of the state fossil of Virginia, a long-extinct scallop calledChesapecten jeffersonius, 3 million years old. But in some ways it’s as representative of the near future as it is of the very distant past.

    Three million years ago was the Pliocene epoch—unimaginably remote by human measure but in geologic time quite recent. Near enough, in fact, to make comparisons with our current situation more than plausible. The geography that can affect...

    (pp. 115-125)

    Mosquitos matter. Virginia has fifty-seven different kinds of them—“each one as different in habitats and behaviors as a hawk and a hummingbird,” as one expert says—and about ten can carry a variety of infectious diseases. Out in my backyard, and probably in yours if it’s a little shady, we now have robust populations of those incredibly annoying black-and-white-striped Asian tiger mosquitos, inadvertently imported and then established in Virginia and the rest of the Southeast by around 1992. Their active seasons are lengthening even in the Shenandoah Valley, where severe winter cold used to limit their reproduction.

    Potent biters,...

    (pp. 126-138)

    The promise of slogans—often though not always betrayed—is that a few mere words can animate us and alter behavior, if not history. “Just say no.” “Can we all get along?” Here’s a peppy mantra—not my coinage—that I hope carries a lot of consciousness-raising voltage in our near future: “Climate-ready and climate-friendly.”

    It captures two broad strategies. “Climate-ready” means planning for impacts that we can no longer avoid, such as sea level rise, dying forests, heat, and extreme weather. The “climate-friendly” part is that Virginians and the rest of the world can take steps now to throttle...

  17. 13 ORACLES
    (pp. 139-150)

    If you want to know something more about the sources of climate projections for Virginia, then Cheyenne, Wyoming, is not a bad place to start. An advance guard of 18-wheelers rolled into a business park there not long ago to unload some of the first chunks of a supercomputer called Yellowstone, a quadrillion-calculations-per-second thinker that will be used to model future climate.

    Yellowstone has thirty times the power of the supercomputer that the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and other climate teams have often depended on over the last few years. It cost about $30 million, and just like...

    (pp. 151-166)

    Hundreds of books and websites offer proposals on every scale, from planetwide to personal, for reducing our carbon footprint in order to ease climate disruption. To make that torrent of conversation useful, though, we have a different challenge. How do we decide whom to listen to in the future, about either the fixes or about the climate change itself? Some of those “solutions” are bogus, and others threaten to do even more environmental harm. We need a rough guide to help us sort out what is, and is not, believable. Really, now, why believe what you are reading here?


  19. NOTES
    (pp. 167-184)
    (pp. 185-202)
    (pp. 203-204)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 205-212)