Is Clean Energy a Mega-opportunity for Virginia? Is the Pope Catholic??

Pope Francis's genuinely moving encyclical on climate change and its impact on the disadvantaged is timely for the state of Virginia, which has not only at least 700,000 Catholics (including one Governor Terrance McAuliffe), but which is already grappling with the effects of climate change.

Indeed, the Virginia Catholic Conference, representing the registered Catholics in the Commonwealth, notes, "from the effects of deforestation on third-world countries that depend on rich soil for agriculture, to rising sea levels in Virginia's own Hampton Roads region, climate change poses dire threats to economic and human interests." (In an email to the 10,000 members of its advocacy network, the VCC has urged "people to read the encyclical," says Michael Lewis, an associate director, and will hold encyclical programs this summer, focusing on "how we can involve the Catholic church and local communities in the issues of climate change.") In addition, sea level rise will continue to damage the state's coastal cities, with the homes of over thirty-five thousand families possibly uninhabitable by the end of the century. Lyme disease cases doubled between 2006 and 2007 in the state, due to rising temperatures that have increased tick habitat in Virginia. And as the Pope points out, children, the elderly, and the poor are most vulnerable to climate change impacts, including health problems related to heat stress, bad air quality, and extreme weather events.

Thus, Pope Francis rightly calls on each of us to act, but not only as individuals. Local communities, businesses, and governments have much to attend to, he writes: "[O]n the national and local levels, much still needs to be done . . . include favoring forms of industrial production with maximum energy efficiency and diminished use of raw materials, removing from the market products which are less energy efficient or more polluting, improving transport systems, and encouraging the construction and repair of buildings aimed at reducing their energy consumption and levels of pollution."

Luckily for us, we have a ready-built option for doing all of that, while also building a New Virginia Economy: the EPA's Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from the nation's polluting power plants will build our economy, create new jobs, help our kids and our seniors breathe cleaner air, promote a more reliable electric grid, and save us money on our energy bills. Better yet, the Commonwealth is already 80 percent of the way toward achieving the EPA's proposed carbon reduction goal for the state. And ramping up energy efficiency and renewable energy to meet an even more forward-looking goal could create 5,600 new jobs and save households and businesses $1 billion on their electric bills in 2020.

I myself happen to be Presbyterian, but some messages are universal: addressing climate change now would not only protect the most vulnerable among us, but would also boost the quality of life in the Commonwealth, through cleaner energy and expanded economic activity.

So, if anyone ever asks you if responding to climate change is good for Virginians, you can simply ask: "is the Pope Catholic?"

Related Blogs