Virginia Beach faith leaders, legislators call for climate action

virginiaFaith leaders, legislators, and Virginia residents came together today to call on Virginia leaders to protect Hampton Roads from sea level rise by formally joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

During what was called the “Environmental Justice and Stewardship Prayer Breakfast” at Lynnhaven Colony Congregational Church in Virginia Beach, leaders of congregations from across Hampton Roads discussed the connection between faith and environmental justice, as well as ways to take action to protect the coast. Participants aimed to address the local challenges of climate change through a moral, prophetic, and legislative lens.

“Mother Nature is warning the city of Virginia Beach with more frequent tidewater flooding and drowning rainfalls,” said William Jennings, Chairman of the Flood Committee at the Princess Anne Plaza Civic League. “What never before flooded now floods. We are calling on our leaders to protect ALL residents from flooding before it is too late.”

The prayer breakfast comes shortly after the recent news that sea level rise from Antarctic ice melt has tripled over the past five years. Antarctic ice melt is one of the biggest contributors to sea level rise, which is expected to get much worse in the coming decades.

Additionally, a new report  from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that 115,000 homes in Virginia will be at risk of chronic inundation from flooding by 2100. The same study found that if  nations adhere to the primary goal of the Paris Agreement—capping warming to below 2 degrees Celsius — 90 percent of this chronic inundation would be avoided.

Virginia Delegate Cheryl Turpin (D-85), who was not able to attend the prayer breakfast, stated in support: “The Bible says in Genesis 1:26, ‘Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ As an elected official, I feel a moral obligation to protect our environment. That’s why I sponsored legislation that would direct Virginia to collect revenue from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative program (RGGI) and invest it in a just transition from fossil fuels. We must do everything we can to address the issue of flooding on our coastlines, as well as the pollution that is impacting our environment. We must act now to help protect our children’s and grandchildren’s future.” ​

“I used to live in South Norfolk, but I’ve had to move to escape the flooding,” said Stephanie Sterner, an activist and former Virginia Beach resident. “I missed work due to the constant rain. It was too dangerous to drive. The water would overfill the surrounding neighborhood sewers, which made my daughter sick. Several children in the neighborhood consistently missed school, putting them behind the rest of the city kids — some even had to repeat a grade. The economic and academic consequences of this constant flooding is seriously hurting communities. We need to do something about this now!”

The group argued that Virginia needs a massive, coordinated investment in new and resilient infrastructure, living shorelines, emergency planning, and strategic retreat from vulnerable areas to keep people safe and dry.

“Pope Francis has called on leaders to address climate change because he knows it is the moral thing to do, and I agree,” said Virginia State Senator Lynwood Lewis (D-6), who was also unable to attend the prayer breakfast. “We must do what is in our power to address climate change and its effects, including finding ways to combat sea level rise. Formally joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative would allow us to cap carbon while providing immense, sorely needed funding to protect our residents on the coast.” Senator Lewis represents the entirety of the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Mathews County as well as parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

By formally joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Virginia regulators would unlock crucial funds for adaptation measures throughout Virginia while guaranteeing long-term reductions in carbon emissions in a way that is proven cost-effective. Revenues generated from the sale of carbon allowances could help fund coastal resilience efforts, support economic development in Southwest Virginia, and expand clean energy and efficiency investments statewide.

RGGI is a cooperative effort, currently comprised of nine East Coast states from Maine to Maryland, that caps and reduces carbon emissions from power plants. Under RGGI, power plants in participating states purchase allowances for every ton of carbon pollution that they emit. RGGI states agree amongst themselves how many pollution allowances to offer for sale each year, thus setting a cap on emissions, and they gradually lower the cap each year. It’s a flexible, market-based system. Participating states set the carbon cap and then power plants decide how to stay below it. Revenue from the auction of pollution allowances goes back to the states to fund carbon reduction programs and other initiatives decided by each state. Virginia’s participation in RGGI is projected to raise roughly $200 million per year through 2030 in auction allowances.

The event was coordinated by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, the Interspiritual Empowerment Project, and Virginia Organizing. Visit CCAN for more details on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

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