Climate change no laughing matter

Appearing in The Register-Herald (Beckley, WV):

Tuesday August 6, 2019  GUEST COLUMN by Angie Rosser, executive director of WV Rivers Coalition

The July 26 editorial in the Register-Herald, The Temerity to Address Climate Change, was a breath of fresh air. It is, indeed, time for political leaders at every level of government to follow Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, in acknowledging that the science of human-caused global warming and the resulting, unfolding climate crisis has long been settled.

Although scientific models vary on the pace of change, there is no dispute that change is already underway. To call the fact of rising Earth temperatures mythology, as did Delegate Marshall Wilson on the House floor, is little different from saying the Earth is flat.

Most legislators know it is ridiculous to agree with Mr. Wilson. Still, many remain silent. Climate deniers have become partisan political stand-ins who use words like “science” and “global warming” as fighting words to win points with the industries that support them. We can almost imagine them joking behind closed doors at the audacity to make such statements. But this isn’t funny. This is no laughing matter.

Real laughter is the sound of a young girl landing her first brook trout in the Williams River in the West Virginia highlands, backed up in harmony by her granddad, hooting, “Atta girl!”

Trout fishing is part of life in our state, from growing up to growing old. Rising temperatures are already impacting brook trout. This is due in part to their reliance on coldwater streams, and in part to their inability to compete with the non-native species that thrive in warmer waters. If we don’t stand up and face facts with policies, West Virginians will be robbed of their birthright. Our state fish, the brook trout, could disappear in a generation.

Laughter is the sound of teenagers horsing around in the Elk River, with their towels spread across the rocks along the bank. Some states brag about shopping malls; we have rivers as our playgrounds. Now, increasingly, those rivers are prone to more flooding and have become a danger to downstream communities. The type of storms predicted in the 1970s have become today’s reality. Storms are bigger, sometimes bringing a month of rainfall in an hour. If we don’t enact policies now to slow and halt global warming, future generations could see rivers only in two stages: floods and dries.

Laughter is the sound of lovers of all ages reveling in the romantic views of the hardwoods above the New River ablaze in the colors of autumn. Yes, even love could change – not to mention our leaf-peeping tourist economy. According to some models, pine and scrub oaks will replace many of the eastern hardwoods common throughout West Virginia. What kind of West Virginia would this be then?

We have to get down to business at all levels of government. For local government, this begins with simple steps like committing to cut energy and fuel use. For our governor and legislature, let’s start by investing in transitioning into our future economy. We just gave a power plant $78,000 per job it purported to save (if for only a few years). Our government could surely spend a similar amount of money to begin now to help those workers transition to new employment when those jobs are lost.

At the federal level we need leadership to stand up and be counted, to make sure West Virginia is not left behind as the economics of energy production accelerate the country toward renewable sources.

Indeed, it is time to get serious. Climate change is no laughing matter. Earth’s rising temperatures are already impacting West Virginia. The pace of change is picking up. Our political leaders must get real about the science that puts West Virginia in a losing position. We must step up now to have a fighting chance to beat this in a way that we all win, before it’s too late.

Angie Rosser is the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and restoring West Virginia’s exceptional rivers and streams.