Climate Fever 

How will Virginia fare in the coming age of destabilizing climate change? A new book by a University of Richmond professor offers a glimpse.

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Imagine it's a fall day in 2114. You get ready for a jog down by the James River.

It's pleasant by the towering palm trees, but you must keep an eye out for alligators and the venomous cottonmouth moccasins as big around as your thigh. It's best to exercise early because the rest of the day will be typically steamy and windless.

This is what Richmond very well could be like within 100 years if carbon-dioxide emissions stay at the same levels as today. Virginia's climate could warm up to something like that in northern Florida, according to Stephen Nash, a part-time journalism professor at the University of Richmond in his new book, "Virginia Climate Fever: How Global Warming Will Transform Our Cities, Shorelines and Forests" (University of Virginia Press).

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Even if steps are taken to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, the state's climate still will be decidedly warmer — more like that of the southern coast of North Carolina.

Nash's work is important. He lays out global warming and climate change on a micro level in a just-the-facts manner. His style might be a bit bloodless and there are no strong human characters to build upon, but the overall message is powerful, if not stunning.

Nash notes that data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that, since 1975, the statewide annual mean temperature in Virginia has increased an average of 0.46 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, a rate of 4.6 degrees per century. That's a recipe for destabilizing climate change.

About half of Virginia is directly affected by water linked to the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic Ocean. If carbon isn't cut, the sea level is projected to rise 2 more feet along coastal Virginia by 2050 and 5.6 feet by 2100. That will have some impact in Richmond, but it spells devastation for cities such as Norfolk and Hampton.

Just a 2-foot rise could inundate 82 square miles of dry land and 660 square miles of wetlands in Virginia, according to Nash, who notes that lots of crucial infrastructure, such as highways, rail lines and port facilities, would be inundated during storm surges from hurricanes, which would be more powerful and frequent.

Drastic changes would affect mountain areas in which higher hills are home to "61 kinds of reptiles, 85 mammals, nearly 400 birds, more than 3,000 flowering plants, ferns and shrubs, 238 species of trees and 210 of fish," Nash writes. They all would be endangered with a warmer climate, as would Mount Rogers, the state's highest mountain and the only place cold enough for a spruce-fir habitat.

Nasty changes could come in tiny forms — namely mosquitoes that used to bring malaria but now bear other diseases such as West Nile virus. Warmer climes mean more bugs and a state Department of Health that isn't exactly equipped or funded to handle them.

Nash prescribes a number of solutions, such as preparing paths for fauna and flora to migrate with climate change and halting mindless government support of building houses on flimsy beachfront. In an eerie foreshadowing of the ebola controversy, he suggests tougher inspections of international trade cargos for alien plants, animals and diseases.

Most important of all is to realize that the science behind what Virginia faces isn't something really open to debate, although there's plenty of it. Nash doesn't get involved in the recent conflict of former Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli's legal witch hunt against former University of Virginia climatologist Michael Mann. 

He doesn't have to. His book is packed with data. Similar micro explorations should be written about what will happen to the other 49 states.

Nash's book would make a great guide. S

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