With nearly 40 years of experience as a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, 33 years of which were in West Virginia, I have often been asked why I have not written an opinion piece on the issue of climate change.
In the past, I deferred to experts and scientists with fancier credentials to give the facts that prove climate change, that show potential impacts of climate change and facts that confirm the urgent threat posed by climate change. We have blown away records regarding peak levels of carbon dioxide over the last 400,000 years. The graph tracking the change over the last 100 years has basically gone vertical with no indication of a change in sight. It is becoming commonplace to break record high temperatures around the globe.
But I have left the responsibility of educating people about the dangers of climate change to others, because debating with deniers of climate change is like arguing with members of the flat earth society. Climate change deniers maintain their stance at all costs. Perhaps it is to save face. Perhaps they believe to acknowledge it would threaten their livelihood. Perhaps it is a boost to their ego to go up against people they see as arrogant and elite. Whatever the reason, denying climate change does not change the dangers posed by it.
So, I would make a different case to the people of West Virginia about the meaning of climate change to us. Whether or not we agree about the seriousness of climate change, the world and our country are moving to address it. The fact is, it will be one of the largest economic drivers of this century. We can ignore that fact and keep ourselves entrenched in the past. However, the states that leverage this fact will be the ones which move forward as we progress through the next several decades. But what does that mean for West Virginia?
The governor and some key legislators need to put together a commission that will study the impacts of climate change, both physical and psychological, not just to West Virginia, but to other parts of the country. Bring in climatologists, marine biologists, flood control specialists, members of the energy sector, sociologists, environmentalists, agriculture experts and any other experts who can shed light on the issues related to climate change. The commission then needs to build an image of what the future will look like in a world addressing climate change.
From that image, West Virginia can formulate a plan that benefits its citizens and its economy. New solar technology requires much less sunshine to generate electricity. Would our abandoned mining sites be a good home for this emerging technology? It takes years to develop orchards. Is it time to begin to develop agriculture that has been limited by temperatures in the past? Will nearby warming metropolitan areas be looking for relief from heat in the forests and mountains? Will more people become environmentally interested seeking outdoor activities and recreation? Should this drive us to devote more resources to expanding our parks and recreation? Are government dollars, and resulting jobs, needed to mitigate greater threats of flooding due to increased levels of rainfall? Will the availability of seafood be impacted, making aquaculture a viable option for West Virginia? Will recycling emerge as a cleaner alternative to creating plastics from oil? Can the panhandles support recycling centers that can serve nearby metropolitan areas? Where does our current infrastructure need to be improved to facilitate changes the future may bring?
Answers to these questions can help West Virginia move forward and thrive. We need to do more as a state than trying to get a single factory here or there. We need to maximize what will stimulate our economy for years to come, not just right now. If we think small and pine about the past, we will remain in the past.
You do not have to believe in climate change, but society as a whole is looking for more sustainable options. We do need to leverage these options to advantage our state.