Sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia are rising at a rate more than twice the global average. Since 1960, the area has experienced a 325 percent increase in “nuisance flooding” that disrupts business by closing roads and flooding parking lots and putting undue stress on infrastructure, like storm water drains, roads and sidewalks.
Some of this recurrent flooding is due to the land settling, the geologic results of a massive meteor strike here 35 million years ago. But there’s little doubt the Virginia coast is also on the frontline of climate change, surging waters and more intense storms. It’s no longer a question if and when the sea will rise here; the challenge is how much and how to adapt.
The Chesapeake Bay is our nation’s largest estuary and home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals, including thousands of acres of valuable coastal marsh and wetlands. Scientists anticipate Virginia will lose 50-80 percent of these wetlands in the next 50 years at the current rate of sea-level rise. And it isn’t just the beautiful vistas we’ll lose, but everything else these wetlands provide—protection from erosion near waterfront property; flood control; filtration of runoff and removal of pollutants; and the food, water and habitat for the critters that call the wetlands home.
The busy Hampton Roads area is the second most populated region at risk from sea level and related storm damage after New Orleans. And it is home to the world’s largest Navy base. During a speech at the College of William and Mary, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) remarked that in another 25 years, the main road into Naval Station Norfolk, will be under water three hours a day.
Thus, climate change not only threatens our way of life, but it’s threatening our national security as well. We need to mitigate its effects with short- and long-term strategies. We need to adapt to these changes by developing environmentally smart infrastructure that not only allows us to live in a rapidly changing world, but minimizes climate changing pollution for the future.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s new Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach is designed to do just that by minimizing CO2 emissions, limiting environmental impacts and adapting to rising sea-levels. The center is built on pilings more than 14 feet above sea level and 200 feet back from the river’s edge (double the 100 feet clearance required by Virginia law), safe from both rising sea levels and storm surges.
The Brock Environmental Center also utilizes existing technology and common-sense design features to meet the Living Building Challenge, the highest standard for environmentally smart building. Two small wind turbines and roof top solar arrays generate enough energy to power the building. Geothermal wells, windows that open and close according to temperature needs, super-insulated walls and floors, and natural ventilation features—heat and cool the building.
And rain cisterns and a filtering system make the Brock Environmental Center the first project in the U.S. to receive a commercial permit for drinking filtered/treated rainwater in accordance with the federal drinking water requirements. In fact, the center uses rainwater for all its water needs.
The builders also extensively used recycled and salvaged materials to reduce waste, and they excluded more than 300 hundred toxic materials typically found in common building materials.
Finally, the building was designed to prevent site disturbance—there is no parking lot on site, and it is landscaped in native trees, shrubs, and grasses to restore years of displaced wetlands. The natural landscaping allows flood waters to rise, settle and recede naturally without harm to the center or nearby neighborhoods.
Now open for business, the Brock Environmental Center allows the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to continue its groundbreaking work saving the bay in Hampton Roads while providing a national model for smart building, energy efficiency and climate-change adaptability.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.