Recently, as the latest torrential downpour was saturating Rappahannock County, President Donald Trump was traveling to West Virginia to tout his latest rollback of environmental protections against carbon pollution. But more personally and parochially, my thoughts were consumed with worry about whether my driveway’s newest, now 24-inch, culvert would hold.
For 11 years, the 12-inch culvert had done just fine; but then starting in May, it just couldn’t handle the run-off. Pretty soon most of the gravel and riprap grounding it had been washed away. Then in July, the entire length of the 20-foot galvanized metal itself ended up in the middle of South Poes Road. I was not alone, of course; most Rappahannock residents suffered one way or another from the frequent deluges.
According to the Climatology Office in the University of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Sciences, rainfall in the Sperryville area through July totaled over 50 inches — already four inches more than the area’s average rainfall total for a whole year!
Further south, near Charlottesville, the nine inches of rainfall recorded there on a single day, May 30, was likely to happen only once every 500 years, according to the Climatology Office. In Gid Brown Hollow, one local resident who has been observing weather conditions for many years, says total rainfall this July set an all-time record for that month.
Meanwhile, drought conditions prevail in many parts of the rest of the United States — contributing to an unprecedented wildfire season. Wildfires have even been reported this summer north of the Arctic Circle! And parts of Western Europe have never witnessed such heatwaves and dry conditions.
“This is the face of climate change,” said Professor Michael Mann of Penn State University, one the world’s most eminent climate scientists. “We literally would not have seen these extremes in the absence of climate change. . . . The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “We are seeing them play out in real time and what is happening this summer is a perfect example of that.”
Here in the U.S., virtually alone among nations, a sizeable portion of the population apparently refuses to connect the dots between extreme weather and climate change. At least, that’s their “politically incorrect” posture. Their common sense no doubt says otherwise; just as every farmer knows chemistry determines soil health, burning fossil fuels releases carbon that’s bound to affect the air’s chemistry. That chemistry means, since the Industrial Revolution, ever increasing carbon, which in turn (through the “greenhouse effect”) traps heat. And the warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold — resulting in ever heavier, more frequent downpours.
No one likes to be lectured, preached at (as I’m no doubt now doing!). So it is that my Ford hybrid, which I bought to lessen my own purely personal carbon footprint, might be seen by others as a wordless lecture. A rebuke, even. This I came to understand a few months ago when a souped-up pickup passed me on 211, swerved in front of me, then suddenly spewed black soot from two enormous vertical tailpipes — clouding my windshield and choking my breathing. I could barely make out the truck’s bumper sticker: “Prius Repellent.”
“Rolling coal,” I would later learn is what it’s called: modifying a diesel engine so the driver, on a whim, can create conspicuous air pollution. The reason, according to Wikipedia, is for “entertainment, protest against environmentalism, public display of aggression, and/or expression of ‘American freedom.’ ”
Maybe that also explains why Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. That we now join North Korea and Nicaragua as the world’s only non-participating countries doesn’t matter. Neither does the fact that we Americans emit more carbon per capita than any other nation, while rolling back regulations meant to curtail carbon pollution. Why should we care about flooding, wildfires, and sea level rise? When proudly, defiantly, aggressively:
We’re rolling coal!