NO ONE willingly votes for dirty air, deadly heat waves and flooding. But if the wrong candidates win this fall, this is what voters will get instead of the health, safety and economic benefits of taking bold climate action.

All 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly are on the ballot this year, and 2019 will be a make-or-break election for climate action in the commonwealth.

And while Gov. Ralph Northam’s Sept. 17 Executive Order sets forth a forward-leaning objective for the commonwealth to produce 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050, that goal will remain out of reach without support from the Virginia legislature.

Climate change poses an extreme form of economic and environmental destabilization. Global temperatures have warmed 1 degree Celsius (or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880, bringing major and increasingly familiar disruptions: drought, floods, wildfires, extreme weather displacement, resultant food and potable water scarcity, and interruptions in the flow of goods and services.

Extreme heat is one of the more palpable and immediate consequences—as Forbes reported in 2018: “Currently about 30 percent of the world’s population is exposed to 20 or more days a year in which temperature and humidity cross a threshold considered to be lethal.”

Tempting though it may be to construe the scope of climate disruption as a global problem happening elsewhere, reality hits much closer to home. The U.S. EPA in 2016 reported of Virginia: “Most of the state has warmed about one degree F in the last century, and the sea is rising one to two inches every decade. Higher water levels are eroding beaches, submerging low lands, exacerbating coastal flooding, and increasing the salinity of estuaries and aquifers. … In the coming decades, the region’s changing climate is likely to reduce crop yields, harm livestock, increase the number of unpleasantly hot days, and increase the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.”

In its 2018 study “Climate Change and Health In Virginia” the Natural Resources Defense Council likewise warned of extreme heat and coastal flooding and noted additional issues: water-borne contamination, longer and more intense allergy seasons, increasing mosquito and tick-borne illnesses, and impedances to emergency services.

A rule approved in April by the State Air Pollution Control Board would have connected Virginia to a larger carbon marketplace and resulted in a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2030 from our state’s largest and dirtiest fossil fuel-fired electric power generating plants.

The lengths to which the House of Delegates went in 2019 to impede progress on this rule are simply unfathomable. Having failed legislatively, members of the House then blocked climate action through language inserted into the commonwealth’s budget—a harmful end-run that hits a pause button in addressing the climate crisis when we instead need swift action.

Just as climate change threatens our economy, public health and safety, so too it imperils the ecological habitat on which much of our economy and human survival depend.

Our oceans, for instance, have absorbed much of the added carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Consequently, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic than at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, causing a mass die-off of sea life. Any reasonable approach to climate stressors needs to depend heavily on plans to preserve wildlife habitat while shifting our energy strategy towards a far more robust mix of cleaner and more renewable energy.

We need to act as though this is a crisis because it is one, and until we again have federal leadership on climate, the better part of action needs to transpire at the state level.

Climate action is on the ballot in a big way. Voters must look hard at where this year’s candidates stand on climate change and vote accordingly.

Rebecca R. Rubin is founder, president and CEO of Marstel–Day in Fredericksburg, an international environmental consultancy, and is a former member of the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board.

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