By Joy Sylvester-Johnson and Chris Wiegard
Sylvester-Johnson and Wiegard are members of the Citizens Climate Lobby.
Based on a conversation between two members of the Citizens Climate Lobby: Joy Sylvester-Johnson of Roanoke and Chris Wiegard of Chesterfield County:
Joy: I had a reality check. Four of my best friends questioned human-caused climate change, but then recently one got concerned about her beach house being flooded. Climate change has been in the news so much, all four now acknowledge it’s happening, but they still don’t see the connection to making better energy policies. They have a feeling of relative safety — a freedom from concern regarding the daily evidence of sea level rise, wildfires, hurricanes, and drought. They don’t share my sense of urgency.
Chris: Why should they? The progress of climate change in your part of Virginia is not frightening — in the short term. Folks born before 1960 in Roanoke experience double the number of summer days reaching a temperature of 90 degrees, but since doubling 10 is only 20, Roanoke summer weather’s still comfortable.
Joy: I enjoy living in Roanoke with reasonable temperatures, especially at night sitting on the deck.
Chris: I envy you! Richmond is a lot hotter, but Roanoke night temperatures have increased more than daytime. Did you know there are now 30 more days each year when night temperature remains above 65 degrees?
Joy: That’s still a comfortable temperature.
Chris: True, but it’s a worrisome trend. The allergy season in Roanoke is longer by 35 days than in 1970 and Roanoke experiences another 25 days of mosquito season.
Joy: Well that’s not good, but it’s not life threatening. I guess if comfort were the only factor I could understand their complacency.
Chris: Here’s why you need to keep talking and they need to start listening: The changes are trending, open ended and accelerating. Another 80 years will produce another doubling to 40 days reaching 90 degrees.
Joy: I know my friend’s beach house will be history in 80 years, but her real home, here in the Blue Ridge will be safe from flooding, right?
Chris: Not exactly. The flooding danger in Roanoke has to do with a warming sky. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. Under the right conditions, that water comes down as rain in extreme quantities. This happens during tropical incursions like Florence, but it can also happen without tropical moisture—and it’s already becoming more common.
Joy: I’ve noticed lots of businesses have started putting sandbags in front of their entrances when flooding’s predicted.
Chris: Roanoke will not be immune to the climate consequences already in California and Hampton Roads, but the changes will take different forms. Temperatures will impact agriculture and forestry in Roanoke. Wheat and apples will be harder to grow, and some tree species will disappear altogether.
Joy: So I should say goodbye to my red spruce and my fir trees?
Chris: Yep. Over the long term, Roanoke’s climate will change and that will change other things. That’s why I hope your friends will come to share your opinion either like you out of a religious conviction to prevent immense human suffering …
Joy: That’s what got me involved.
Chris: ...or, from a common-sense conviction that these problems don’t get fixed by being ignored.
Joy: I like to think one can hold both convictions. Just because I’m religious doesn’t mean I don’t consider the scientific and economic considerations.
Chris: Whatever their motivation, the pretense that climate change is “unworthy of attention” is going to pass — and soon. Science and economics tell us emissions will be priced, renewable energy will accelerate, and fossil fuels will diminish.
The question is not if the status quo will continue; but whether it will end soon enough to allow a future for our children and their children.
Joy: All four of my friends are smart, compassionate spiritual, women with successful careers in business. Three have children and the fourth has devoted her life to keeping children in Roanoke safe. And yet...
Chris: They work on challenges, just not the biggest one we face.
Joy: Exactly. I don’t want to nag my friends — and yet…
Chris: Joy, are we there yet?
Joy: We’re there.
Chris: And they’re your closest friends, right?
Chris: (waits, creating an awkward silence)
Joy: Stop yelling!
Chris: I didn’t say anything.
Joy: You were thinking loudly. If they are really my friends I shouldn’t give up on them.
Chris: Yes! I trust you to be civil, nonpartisan, kind and persistent — just do it!
Joy: Friends don’t let friends ignore global warming. I’ll talk with them — again.