Fossilized remains recently discovered at the Saltville Archaeological Site provide evidence of the extinction of men and beasts that once roamed Virginia - an extinction that was likely caused by climate change. Since 1975 the temperature has increased in Virginia by nearly half a degree per decade. If the warming continues, Virginia will be the new South Carolina - temperature wise - within 35 years and as hot as Florida by the end of the century. By 2075 the 4.6 degree increase in temperature will be more than enough to destabilize our climate entirely.

Virginia's 10,000 mile tidal shoreline is the longest of the contiguous Unites States, and warmer ocean temperatures are causing thermal expansion leading to rising sea levels. In the Tidewater area, where 78% of Virginians live, the sea level will rise by one foot in 35 years and by more than two feet by the end of the century. Even now, Virginia Beach requires regular replenishments from sand dredged far offshore.

Relative sea levels are rising faster in Hampton Roads that anywere else on the Atlantic Coast due to an overall rise in sea level and the sinking of the land itself. Storms cause regular flooding, and insurance premiums are surging along with the tides. Here home owners are being forced to make the choice to 'raise or raze' their homes. In other words, they must choose between making costly building adaptations to defend against floods or let go of homes that are declining in value and costing a fortune to insure.

surf rider hampton va

The good life in Hampton Roads is going under amidst regular flooding and rising insurance premiums.

In the middle of the Chesapeake midway between Virginia and Maryland lies a tiny island occupying a little over a square mile and rising less than five feet above sea level. Once the summer home of the Pocomoke Indians, Tangier Island was discovered by Captain John Smith in 1618. Shortly thereafter, 16 families from Cornwall, England settled the island and earned their living as 'watermen' harvesting and selling crabs and the famed oysters that have become a Virginia tradition. The descendants of these watermen reside on the island to this day, speaking with an English Restoration Era dialect that has long been the study of linguists. In 2014 Tangier Island was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

tangier island sydney wallace house

From May through September Tangier Island enjoys a lively tourist industry that features seafood restaurants and bed and breakfast inns such as the Sydney Wallace House, now the Bay View Inn.

Yet, the rising ocean takes 12 feet of land a year away from the bayside of Tangier, and Nor'easters have actually ripped chunks of earth from the island. A multi-million dollar investment in breakwaters and sand replenishment might preserve Tangier, but if nothing is done to protect the island, the tiny historic village will go under, and the watermen of Tangier and their families will become Virginia's first 'climate change refugees.' The probable destruction of Tangier Island is a sad, frightening omen of what may happen to the remaining cities and towns of Virginia's Tidewater.

tangier island oil company

The watermen of Tangier and their families may become Virginia's first 'climate change refugees' if Tangier Island is allowed to go under.

Excess carbon dioxide - CO2 - has a profound effect on the Chesapeake as it increases the acidity of the ocean. Acid corrodes calcium and could dissolve coral reefs and the shells of marine life - including Virginia's famed oysters and along with it Virginia's seafood industry and oyster tradition. Half of Virginia's electrical energy comes from coal, and a power generating plant can burn 40 tons of coal per hour releasing nearly a million tons of CO2 a year. Virginia ranks in the top third of CO2 emissions nationwide. This 'greenhouse gas' ends up part of our atmosphere, trapping heat around the earth's surface and warming the climate.

tangier island sydney wallace house

Visitors to Tangier Island can walk along paths through scenic wetlands and wildlife habitat in an ecosystem now endangered by climate change.

Climate change experts agree that the threats to our environment and way of life are best solved by a two-pronged attack - one that seeks to mitigate the problem as well as adapt to it. First, the problem can be mitigated, or brought under control, by setting standards for energy efficiency and reducing dependence on CO2 producing fossil fuels such as coal and gas in favor of cleaner energy sources such as solar and wind power. Secondly, it will be necessary to adapt to the new reality by stabilizing shorelines with sand, grasses and other plants as well as elevating buildings and replenishing beach sand. Climate change is not necessarily a forecast for doom and gloom - we can protect the precious lands and rich history of Virginia's Tidewater if we act now.

Help Save Tangier Island

Pictured at the very top: Watermen's crabs shacks and traps line the fishing channels around Tangier Island.

Science and history courtesy of and many thanks to Stephen Nash, Virginia Climate Fever, University of Virginia Press, Kindle Edition 2014 and Jon Gertner, ‘Should the United States Save Tangier Island from Oblivion?’, The New York Times, July 6, 2016, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Safe Coast Virginia, July 2014 and Brooke Jarvis, ‘When Rising Seas Transform Risk Into Certainty’, The New York Times, April 18, 2017.