Chesapeake Bay Program / Flickr tangier island...
Chesapeake Bay Program / Flickr

Jenna Portnoy at The Washington Post wrote an interesting piece today about Tangier Island and Sen. Tim Kaine, the Virginia Democrat. Despite the fact most islanders didn’t vote for Kaine when he ran for governor or senator, he’s determined to help them deal with their plight. Which means getting Congress to cough up some money to deal with the face that the island is vanishing into Chesapeake Bay. 

The island is about 12 miles from the Virginia and Maryland coasts in the Chesapeake. In fact, more and more of it is literally in the bay. Each year eight or so of the island’s remaining 832 acres dip beneath the waves. This gradual submersion has been going on more than a century and a half. But coastal erosion and rising sea levels from climate change have sped up the process, and for the 450 residents of the island the prognosis is … problematic.

You may remember that back in June, Pr*sident Trump called the island’s mayor, James Eskridge, after CNN aired a story on the island’s troubles during which Eskridge said: “Donald Trump, if you see this, whatever you can do, we welcome any help you can give us,” Eskridge said, later adding, “I love Trump as much as any family member I got.”

Trump did what he does best—bluster. He phoned up Eskridge to tell him not to worry, the island would still be there centuries from now. He promised the red tape would be cut and regulations pushed out of the way to get a jetty or even an entire sea wall built to rescue Tangier and its residents. He also invited the mayor to come up to Washington some time for a chat. Eskridge invited Trump to visit the island. 

The mayor hasn’t gotten an official invitation to the White House so far. And Trump hasn’t visited the islanders who gave him 87 percent of their votes last November. The only thing he has done that relates to the island’s welfare, in fact, is propose cutting money from the 34-year-old Chesapeake Bay Program, a federal-state partnership designed to clean up the bay’s pollution that imperils the very ecosystem that the islanders depend on for their livelihoods. Congress has stuck $73 million back into the budget for the program. But that money runs out the end of this month.

After Eskridge appeared last year on CNN where he got to display his deep denial about climate change with a question for former Vice President Al Gore, he received a lot of voice mails and other communications from people who said the island should be left to sink and the islanders with it—or move to the mainland. 

On his recent visit to Tangier, however, Sen. Kaine, objected to that kind of talk. Here’s Portnoy:

“That’s just not productive,” Kaine said, standing on a wooden dock waiting for a ferry to Onancock. “That’s not the way we think. This is a community where — look, this is not the most Democratic place in Virginia, ya know?”

As governor, Kaine helped build a modern health clinic on the island a decade ago, and residents “are always perfectly respectful and kind and friendly to me every time I come even though they might support somebody else,” he said.

Kaine, who is running for reelection, said he will return to Washington this month with a difficult task: convince his fellow senators that a bunch of climate change skeptics deserve millions — maybe billions — in federal money to protect them from the effects of climate change.

To say getting that money will be a hard sell is an understatement. A big chunk of Congress is filled with people who view climate change the same way Trump and Eskridge do, if not an outright hoax, at best unproven theory. It doesn’t matter what they can see with their very own eyes happening around the globe or their own beachfront properties, they just don’t accept scientists’ assessments of our current situation and their forecasts of the immediate and long-term future even less.

But no matter how many times Donald Trump’s numbskull minions scrub “climate change”  from government websites, documents, and grant proposals, it’s not going away. Temperatures will rise, sea levels will rise, droughts will worsen, fires will worsen, and ever more fierce storms like Hurricane Harvey will roar through ever more communities and leave them devastated. 

The cost to repair and restore them, or alternatively, to move all their residents, homes, commercial enterprises and public infrastructure to higher ground will be immense. And it will be worse if people like those in charge of our government and way too many of our corporations don’t make immediate moves to stop their idiocy and accelerate the transformation of our energy, transportation and agricultural systems. 

As The Climate Mobilization project argues, the climate crisis needs to be treated with all the speed and seriousness with which we addressed the Axis threat of World War II. Indeed, even more seriously given that the crisis is so much more than that one 75 years ago that left at least 60 million humans dead. 

In addition to islands like Tangier, 180 U.S. coastal cities of 50,000 or more residents face a major risk from a one-meter rise in sea level. By 2100, in the lifetimes of children born this weekend, that rise could be as much as two meters. And compared with some other nations, from the Seychelles to Bangladesh, from China to Indonesia, America has it easy. 

Sen. Kaine and a whole bunch of other senators with deep tranches of climate science-denying constituents need to figure out how to be more persuasive in handling this crisis, whether those constituents live on islands, coastal low-lands or mountain ridges. As shown by the mayor and residents of Tangier, people living on the front-lines of the harbingers of what is coming, figuring what will persuade them to change their minds will be no easy task.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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