HARVEY, IRMA, AND US

Prices at the gas stations along Stuart Drive in Galax have jumped considerably in the past couple of weeks, and thanks to the temporary shutdown of refineries in Texas, prices may go higher.  Hurricane Harvey knocked out 25% of the nation’s gasoline refining capacity and caused the spike.

Given the extraordinary impacts of Harvey and now Hurricane Irma, impacts that have affected us in Grayson County, one wonders if Morgan Griffith has changed his views on global warming or if he is still a member of that cabal in Congress subscribing to the prehistoric, anti-science view that human activity is not changing the world’s climate.  In other words, is he still dragging his knuckles on the ground.

Global warming did not cause Hurricane Harvey, but it did greatly exacerbate its effects.  Rising sea levels coupled with warmer air and ocean temperatures resulted in the unprecedented flooding in Houston and surrounding South Texas communities.  Warmer air holds more moisture and produces more rain, which in combination with increased flood hazard from rising sea levels, produced the catastrophic inundation portrayed on the news.  The storm also stalled over the Gulf Coast for days, which may have been a consequence of changing atmospheric and ocean circulatory patterns.  Instead of moving out after a few hours, Harvey continued to dump rain days after making landfall on August 24.  The effects of Hurricane Irma were less catastrophic than feared, but still devastating.  Irma was the biggest hurricane ever, and its impacts were felt across Florida.

When catastrophes like Harvey and Irma occur, our hearts go out to the people affected, but we also feel some guilty relief that this did not happen to us.  It would be foolish, however, to think that in a world with a rapidly changing climate, we in Southwest Virginia are insulated from a natural disaster on the scale of Harvey or Irma.  A devastating hurricane landing on the Virginia coast might knock out our power for a protracted time and produce destructive winds even this far inland.  Other climate disasters include prolonged drought, which may result in a greater chance of wildfires in our heavily wooded region.  We got a taste of that last summer when 40,000 acres burned just south of us in North Carolina.   The eastern white pine and Virginia pine in our woodlands would light up like torches in dry conditions.

Climate science is complex, and it is impossible to predict where and when particular disasters might occur.  We do know, however, that the probability of human-caused climate disruptions is increasing.  We also know that the primary cause of these disruptions is global warming brought about by burning fossil fuels.  For decades, scientists have been measuring carbon in centuries-old air pockets trapped in the Antarctic ice sheet.  Beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700’s, increased carbon in these samples correlates with the increased burning of fossil fuels, concurrent rising temperatures, and now the increased probability of extreme weather events.

Despite the scientific evidence, Morgan Griffith remains a vigorous proponent of burning even more fossil fuel—especially coal.  In his weekly newsletters, he has referred to “clean coal” leading his readers to believe that there is some environmentally and economically viable means of burning coal without adding carbon to the atmosphere and increasing global warming.  In theory, this is possible through carbon sequestration, but it is an expensive process and has not been done at a meaningful scale.  It is a pipe dream.  Still, Mr. Griffith promotes the idea to give false hope to his constituents in coal-producing counties and to continue lining his pockets with donations from coal companies.

The Chinese currently plan to spend five times as much as the US on developing clean energy.  Meanwhile, while the Chinese are leaving us in their dust, Mr. Griffith wants us to look backward, burn more fossil fuels and deal with more climate disasters.  He and his cohorts in Congress need to get their heads out of that place where the sun does not shine.