Tim Kaine on Energy, Sea Level, and Climate
July 25, 2016
Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, questions climate change just like Trump himself does.
By contrast, a peek into the recent past of Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, suggests he takes the issue seriously and has paid particular attention to how it is affecting his constituents in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, which faces some of the largest rates of sea level rise in the country. The link also underscores the strong connection between climate change and national security, because one of the key players that must grapple with sea level rise in the area is Naval Station Norfolk, “the largest naval complex in the world.”
And it suggests that by approaching the issue in this way — focusing on regional vulnerability and on national security — Kaine has actually been able to make some significant bipartisan progress.
To understand why the Hampton Roads region is so vulnerable, it helps to think about how it’s like another region that is often cited as the only one in the United States that’s worse off — New Orleans. As in New Orleans, in the Hampton Roads area it isn’t just that seas are rising, but also that land itself is getting lower.
“The land is sinking at about three or four millimeters a year, and sea level is rising, three or four millimeters per year,” said Larry Atkinson, an oceanographer at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. “So that adds up to two feet per century. And then there’s a bunch of new evidence that show that the whole North Atlantic Ocean is changing, and as it changes, the Gulf Stream slows down, we see sea level rise.”
Some of these factors, like subsidence, may be partly natural and geologically driven (though subsidence is also caused by humans pumping water out of the ground). But rising seas — at an accelerating rate — is a phenomenon reflecting global warming. The Gulf Stream changes, too, are thought to be due to climate change.
According to the Center for Sea Level Rise at Old Dominion University, Hampton Roads ranks 10th globally when it comes to the value of assets that are exposed to rising seas.
Which brings us to Kaine. In 2014, ODU launched a “pilot project” to begin to address sea level rise by coordinating all the parties involved — local, state, federal — to address the issue. That’s when Kaine got really involved, Atkinson said.
“Several years ago we started working to get the Navy and the federal agencies and the cities to start to work together,” he said. “Kaine, after he heard we were doing that, he called a briefing where he got all of the elected representatives down here to get up on stage together to listen to this from the Corps of Engineers and the Navy.”
Check out the video, above, of Tim Kaine speaking in 2012 at a clean economy roundtable held at cleantech strategic marketing firm Tigercomm (based in Arlington). Kaine stressed the need to move from dirty to clean energy for environmental and other reasons. Four years later, it makes even more sense, given the plummeting cost of solar and wind power. Anyway, here’s a summary of Kaine’s main points, courtesy of Tigercomm’s blog, Scaling Green:
- It’s time for opponents of clean energy to stop acting like the reign of fossil fuels as our dominant energy source constitutes some sort of inviolable theology.
- Even for those who don’t “believe” in climate science, or who think clean energy is a science project, it’s still common sense to move ahead aggressively with energy efficiency and clean energy. Unless, of course, they want America assigned permanent international follower status on the technologies other counties want to lead.
- If we find out in 50 years that the climate science was wrong, we’re still ahead by getting off the dirty stuff. If the 98% of practicing climate scientists were right and we let clean energy pass us by, we’ll deeply regret it.
- Clean energy adoption is being slowed by an inherent, incumbent advantage that fossil fuels have and are using to block innovative new technologies.
- We don’t have a level playing field for clean energy because even the way we currently price electric power provides little incentive for energy efficiency and conservation.
- An important step is to “take all the incentives that we currently put on heavy carbon and move them to mid-carbon, low-carbon and no carbon [energy sources]…we don’t need to subsidize mature industries and we shouldn’t be subsidizing the Big 5 oil companies.”