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Editorial: Gillespie's curious omission on sea-level rise

Editorial: Gillespie's curious omission on sea-level rise

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“Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie today released a thorough plan to address sea level rise, recurrent flooding and land subsidence,” his campaign said in a recent news release. But that wasn’t quite true.

While the plan covers much ground — from community rating for flood insurance to flood-proofing military installations — it leaves out one big piece: climate change.

This might not matter if Gillespie had included climate change in his environmental policy — but Gillespie does not have an environmental policy, at least not yet. So while he has laid out detailed proposals regarding the state’s business climate, its tax climate, its regulatory climate, and its legal climate, he has yet to address its climate climate.

To be fair, Gillespie could argue that climate policy and dealing with sea-level rise are two separate questions. The U.S. has been responsible for roughly one-fourth of greenhouse gas emissions. Virginia is responsible for only a fraction of that total — and the share of emissions the state government can influence is only a fraction of that fraction.

What’s more, NASA reports that the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions last not just for decades, but for centuries. So any action a governor takes on climate change now will have only a minuscule effect on global warming or sea-level rise in the near or intermediate future.

Finally, in Hampton Roads much of the sea-level rise is driven not by rising global temperatures but by sinking land. As the U.S. Geological Survey has explained: “Bedrock in the mid-Atlantic region is moving slowly downward in response to melting of the Laurentide ice sheet that covered Canada and the northern United States during the last ice age. ... When the ice sheet still existed, the weight of the ice pushed the underlying Earth’s crust downward and, in response, areas away from the ice sheet were forced upward.” The retreating of the ice has reversed that teeter-totter process, which has led to sinking land in the lower Cheseapeake Bay region.

And yet.

Global warming does exacerbate sea-level rise in Hampton Roads, and Virginia’s limited contribution to the dilemma should not be an excuse for complacency. That is the very nature of collective-action problems: Efforts by one party alone cannot solve them — and if every party uses that as an excuse not to act, the problem never gets solved.

Addressing climate change is possible without heavy-handed, big-government solutions. The best approach is a revenue-neutral carbon tax, pegged to the estimated economic harm caused by C02 emissions and offset by lower personal and corporate income taxes. Carbon trading credits, reduced subsidies for fossil fuel ventures, and similar measures also are worth exploring.

Gillespie has yet to roll out an environmental agenda. If and when he does, he should include ideas on climate change — because the issue is not going to go away.


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