New Study Finds Climate Change Means Risky Business

Jul 28, 2015

It took two years for scientists and economists to crunch the numbers based on 40 different climate models, but they’re out this week with a new report called Risky Business – an analysis of what a warmer planet will mean for Virginia. 

When Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson left government, he set up an independent institute at the University of Chicago – a place that would promote sustainable international growth, with particular attention to the U.S. and China.  Now, working with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Environmentalist Tom Steyer,  the Paulson Institute is out with a report on what climate change will mean to the nation’s most critical regions.

“In Virginia we’re going to see about a five times increase in the number of days over 95 degrees by mid-century, so it’s going to get hotter," says Kate Gordon, editor of the report called Risky Business.

And that could mean trouble for 650 data centers located in this state – including the Metropolitan Area Exchange East, through which 70% of the world’s Internet traffic passes.

“Those data centers are heavily intensive air conditioning users and at the same time increased heat makes our existing power system less efficient.  You have cool down power plants more often and your transmission lines don’t work quite as well.

Growing demand for power to run air conditioners could force construction of new plants, causing an increase in electric bills.  Food prices may also rise as crops whither.

“Virginia is a big agricultural state with particular focus on corn and soybeans, and in the corn side a lot of that is used as feed stock for animals.  The commodity agriculture really takes a  hit in terms of yield loss from increased heat.”

And, of course, the water will rise along Virginia’s coast by more than a foot between now and 2050, putting $139 million worth of property below sea level.  The world’s largest naval center at Norfolk is already making changes to survive, but cities along the coast are struggling to figure out what they should do and how to protect supplies of fresh water.

A number of states on the coastline have water storage systems that are actually right along the coast.  Those systems become potentially inundated by salt water  once salt water rises, and that means you have risks to your drinking water.  Irrigation is a particular interest for Virginia, because you have a big agricultural sector.

The Paulson Institute’s Kate Gordon says none of this inevitable, and she urges Virginia businesses to join the conversation about reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change and prevent more serious problems in the years to come.