Fredericksburg environmental leaders held a presentation on climate change on Sunday as part of former Vice President Al Gore’s 24 Hours of Reality
Fredericksburg environmental leaders held a presentation on climate change on Sunday as part of former Vice President Al Gore’s 24 Hours of Reality: Countdown to the Future, a digital and global conversation about the climate crisis and its solutions in communities around the world. The presentation focused on the local impacts and solutions of the climate crisis in Virginia, especially as they relate to COVID-19, voting and how people can become agents of change.
The presentation was led by Julie Kay, a Climate Reality Project Leader and the co-founder of Fossil Free Fredericksburg. She was joined by Professor Pamela Grothe, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Mary Washington; Bridget McGregor, an organizer with the Virginia League of Conservation Voters; and Allison Grant, member of the UMW President’s Council on Sustainability. The presentation ended with a question and answer panel.
The presentation started with a pre-taped introduction from Gore, followed by Kay talking about the effects of climate change focusing on three key questions: Must we change, can we change, and will we change?
“What I didn’t realize, and I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, is that the atmosphere is just a thin shell around our Earth. It doesn’t go on and on until space … if you were driving your car 60 miles an hour, in just over an hour you would be outside of that area,” Kay said. “What [the sun] is doing is increasing the heat and so the heat is now building up, and some of that heat escapes through the atmosphere, but most of it now is trapped because we have an imbalance. We are spewing over a hundred and 52 million tons of manmade global warming pollution into the thin shell of our atmosphere every 24 hours as if it were an open sewer.”
Kay likened this to how people in medieval times would throw their trash and sewage into the streets.
“We ask, ‘How could they have done that?’ Well, we’re doing the exact same thing,” said Kay.
Kay said that the largest source of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels, and that the Earth’s temperature is rising every year, with a 72 percent chance that 2020 will be the hottest year on record. She also explained that climate change is resulting in an increase of new infectious diseases.
“This year, we are setting new records, and these are not records we want to see,” said Kay.
Grothe spoke about climate change in the context of COVID-19, and how CO2 levels have changed in Virginia.
“With the major economies locked down for months at a time, you’ve heard about the cleaner air, the clearer skies, and the reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, despite the lockdowns the pandemic will really have no effect on climate change,” said Grothe.
Grothe explained that the atmosphere is like a bathtub and CO2 emissions are the faucet.
“We may have turned the faucet down just a bit, but fossil fuels are still being burned, so they’re still accumulating in the atmosphere. It takes tens of thousands of years for carbon in the atmosphere to cycle through. This is why this is an emergency and the problem won’t just go away,” said Grothe.
She said that we need to reduce our emissions by 7.5 percent every year to reach net zero emissions. She explained that through her research she estimates that the state of Virginia reduced their emissions by around 5-6 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“However, these reductions were at the expense of lives lost and economies decimated. They were not brought on by the systematic change in energy. When activity returned back to normal, emissions returned back to normal,” she said.
Fredericksburg Grothe said that policy change and removing dependency on coal as an energy source are important steps in ending climate change. Kay explained that while many Americans are anxious about being out of work if mining and fracking are reduced, there are examples of coal miners being trained to work in solar energy.
“Enough solar energy reaches Earth every hour to fill Earth’s needs for a year,” said Kay.
McGregor from Fredericksburg encouraged Virginians to check their voter registration status, and urged citizens to vote for candidates who care about the climate.
“This year is probably the most important election in our lifetimes that we will be seeing for the environment,” said McGregor. “We have the opportunity to cast our ballot and make sure we are showing our support for clean energy, making sure Americans have access to clean air and water … making sure we get back into the Paris [Climate] Agreement.”
“The future of our planet literally depends on the next few years,” McGregor continued. “It’s crucial to have leaders… actually paying attention to the science behind [climate change] … Change is not going to happen unless you vote for it.”
Kay said that while we must change and that we’ve demonstrated that we can change through successful use of renewable energy, she is unsure that we will actually change unless Americans elect officials who support green energy and environmental protection efforts.
“Use your voice, use your vote, and use your choices. Speak truth to power like your world depends on it because it does.”
Originally published at fredricks burg