While the climate change debate continues in some quarters in Washington, the impact of sea-level rise cut across political divides at the “Rising to the Challenge” conference in Norfolk, VA, earlier this week. Members of Congress and Virginia mayors from both political parties joined military, state and local officials to discuss the challenges sea level rise presents to the Hampton Roads area, as well as how to promote federal, state and local action.
Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, Republican U.S. Representatives Scott Rigell and Robert Wittman and Democratic Representative Robert Scott, Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim (a Democrat), and Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms (a Republican), joined Rear Admiral Jonathan White, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense John Conger and Senior Advisor on the National Security Council Alice Hill. All called for coordination with all levels of government to move from technical discussion of sea-level rise to working policies.
“We cannot afford to do nothing, it is time to act,” Mayor Sessoms said, underscoring that the impacts of climate change are not a political issue, but a backyard issue threatening communities in Virginia.
The Front Lines of Sea Level Rise
Coastal communities in southeast Virginia are at the front lines of sea-level rise. Sinking land and rising seas have combined to produce the fastest rates of sea-level rise along the U.S. East Coast for the Hampton Roads region, which is comprised of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton and 14 other localities in Southeast Virginia. Sea levels have risen more than 14 inches since 1930.
“Since it’s our highest probability, highest impact threat, why don’t we address it as such?” asked Norfolk’s Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response Jim Redick when discussing the significance of sea-level rise. Hampton Roads is the second-most affected by sea-level rise in the nation and has the second-largest population center at risk from sea-level rise. Norfolk officials estimate the city will need at least $1 billion in the coming decades to replace current infrastructure and keep water out of the city’s homes and businesses.
Military Is Speaking Up
Sea-level rise also threatens the region’s numerous major military facilities, including Naval Base Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base and the most vulnerable such base to rising seas, according to Rear Admiral Kevin Slates.
“This is a matter of national security,” said the National Security Council’s Hill. “It’s a mission-readiness issue.”
Rising seas also pose a threat to the region’s economic health—about 46 percent of the Hampton Roads economy comes from U.S. Defense Department spending.
This unique threat to the region has led the Department of Defense to partner with local and state government, local businesses and the community to work together on strategic, long-term regional planning on coastal resilience.
When pressed by panelists on how much sea-level rise the area will confront in the future, Rear Admiral John White explained that we can prevent the worst consequences if we address the root of climate change and “stop putting CO2 in the atmosphere.”
The conference was the latest in a series of events demonstrating that climate change need not be a partisan issue. A report called Risky Business: A Climate Risk Assessment for the US, released June 24 by former Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulson, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and entrepreneur Tom Steyer, provides a comprehensive valuation of financial risks the U.S. faces from climate change. While the report delves into agricultural, health and other climate impacts, it specifically calls out threats to coastal communities from sea-level rise and storm surges. It warns that within the next 15 years, higher sea levels alone will likely increase the average annual cost of coastal storms along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico by $2 billion to $3.5 billion.
That risk was evident at the June 30 conference in Norfolk. “What is the cost if we don’t do anything?” asked Virginia Beach Republican Mayor Sessoms. “I think we’re going to see some numbers that are going to be staggering.”
Sessoms’ concern echoed testimony on June 18 from four Republican former EPA Administrators before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the urgent need for action on climate change. The former administrators also voiced their support of the EPA’s plan to regulate greenhouse gases from existing power plants.
Moving from Diagnosis to Prescription
The “Rising to the Challenge” conference showed that on the local and state level, there is strong bipartisan support and agreement that the problem of sea-level-rise facing Hampton Roads, its citizens, property and assets is an urgent one. It demands action and commitment to work together on solutions. “We have to move from endless diagnosis to prescription,” Sen. Kaine said. The engaged community in Hampton Roads is united by a sense of urgency and poised to grapple with this threat. We hope leaders in Washington and elsewhere are watching this example of elected officials doing what they are meant to do: working together to respond to their constituents’ problems.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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