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Tom Rodd: Climate change and the Highlands

By By Tom Rodd

The economy and ecology of West Virginia’s Allegheny Highlands region — home to iconic landscapes like the Blackwater Canyon and Canaan Valley — are closely tied to the region’s distinctive high-mountain climate.

On Saturday, June 7, at Blackwater Falls State Park, a ground-breaking public conference will bring together a wide range of experts to discuss the impacts of global warming and climate change on the Highlands region. The Conference is titled “Climate Change and the Highlands — What’s at Stake — What’s at Risk?”

The conference, sponsored by Friends of Blackwater, is designed for people who care about the Highlands — including property owners and managers, nature lovers, visitors, businesses, civic leaders, professionals, educators, scientists and local government. Participants will learn about how climate change is impacting and increasing risks to wildlife, agriculture, forestry, tourism, communities, infrastructure and outdoor recreation in the Highlands. More information is at wvalleghenyclimate.org.

The just-released National Climate Assessment shows the reality of climate change impacts in every part of America. Not surprisingly, people all across America are coming together in their states and communities to discuss the reality and the impacts of climate change on the things they value.

In West Virginia, people are asking — with a possible 10-degree global temperature rise by 2100, what will become of West Virginia’s ski industry and our high-mountain forest economy and ecology? How will people who live in and visit the Highlands region handle extreme heat and precipitation events?

Why is this conference especially important? Because, while there are many approaches to the question “What should we do?” to respond to the reality of climate change — there is one answer that no sensible person can object to: We the people have to talk about it!

We cannot “trust” government agencies, or businesses, or scientists, or politicians to deal with the reality of climate change. We need to have independent, informed public discussions — so that as a society, we can forge a public consensus to effectively deal with this challenge.

This isn’t to say that agencies, political leaders, and scientists don’t have an important role in responding to climate change. A few days ago, West Virginia’s U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller again acknowledged the reality and seriousness of climate change. That is great!

And many West Virginia scientists and agencies are leading research to understand the climate change impacts that we are already seeing. That’s great, too.

But dealing with the challenge of climate change will take not just leaders and experts, but also forging a broad public consensus and understanding. As citizens, we simply can’t hide from or ignore the problem and the challenges and the difficulties of the path forward. Here in West Virginia, for obvious reasons, we especially have to be informed, aware, and ready to fight for fairness.

Success on that difficult path and in that fight is going to take all of us together. So we need to work hard together to better understand the impacts of climate change. The June 7 Blackwater Falls “Climate Change and the Highlands — What’s at Stake — What’s at Risk?” conference is a step forward.

Let’s go!


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