This op-ed was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on July 29, 2016
When I moved from Hampton to Newport News in 1999, I was told I was not living in a flood zone. Fast forward to 2015 and my home was suddenly at risk for flooding due to sea-level rise and climate change. I got a letter in the mail telling me I had to purchase flood insurance at a minimum cost of $400 a year — that’s a lot on a retired person’s income. I moved to get away from rising water and flooding and ended up in a city — one with high levels of air pollution — that now is also vulnerable to flooding. Yikes!
I thought about retiring to Norfolk not too long ago — maybe I would sell my house and move into an apartment. But then I realized that I could not do that because if a hurricane like Joaquin or Katrina or Sandy hit Virginia, I’d be trapped with thousands of other people below sea level. I’d have to battle the tunnels and bridges and I would be putting my life at risk. As a lifelong resident of the South Hampton Roads area, I find that pretty alarming, and I am not alone.
Back in April 2016, Virginia Organizing was part of a coalition of groups that care about environmental justice (including Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, and Interfaith Power and Light) that released a report criticizing Gov. Terry McAuliffe on his poor climate record. We acknowledged that the governor is taking a few small steps on fighting sea level rise and flooding impacts. We also found that his reckless support for fossil fuel dependency, fracked-gas pipelines, and dumping coal ash would hurt people like me at Virginia’s shores, people in the mountains trying to maintain their land and water quality, and all people in between as the climate erodes.
Support for fossil fuels is inexcusable from a governor who pledged support for the environment when he ran for office. In fact, we know from a report from the Sierra Club that pollution from just two of the pipelines proposed in Virginia — the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines — would have “almost twice the total climate-changing emissions from existing power plants and other stationary sources in Virginia.” That the governor would continue to support this kind of pollution, and the companies that erroneously claim this energy is clean, is appalling.
I marched to the governor’s mansion on July 23 to take a stand for climate justice and against big polluters.
As I looked out into the crowd of more than 600 grassroots people who came to Brown’s Island to march for environmental justice on an unusually scorching hot day, I was struck by the commitment of people from all walks of life coming together to support renewable energy and oppose the continued destruction of Virginia’s natural resources. We are not big contributors to political campaigns and we are not environmental insider groups. We are directly affected people who want our elected officials to do better by all of us, not big businesses and big donors. We don’t care that certain environmental groups gave money to politicians — they don’t speak for us; we speak for ourselves.
We don’t want pipelines running through our land and contaminating our water to deliver fossil fuels that will destroy our environment. We do want the choice to put solar panels and wind turbines on our property. We should scrutinize the words of corporations that are out to make money and listen to the people who are directly affected by pipelines tearing through their land, compromising their water and contributing to declining air quality.
We want to be as successful as 2016 Germany, using renewables as the primary source of energy, where electric prices dipped so low in May that companies were actually paying consumers to use electricity — the price was minus 57 U.S. dollars per megawatt-hour for several 15-minute periods on May 15, 2016, according to Bloomberg. People are not struggling in Germany to pay for electricity; they are trying to figure out where to store all the excess they generate from renewables, which is not a bad problem to have and one easily resolved in Virginia.
According to reports in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, compared to other states, Virginia’s use of solar is abysmal. But we do have an opportunity to do better now, before things get worse. And we can create clean energy jobs in the process!
Janice “Jay” Johnson is a lifetime Virginian and member of the state governing board of Virginia Organizing, a nonpartisan grassroots statewide organization dedicated to creating a more just Virginia. You may contact Johnson at info@virginia-organizing.