Virginia Republican forces scientists to stop using ‘climate change’ terminology

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, June 11, 2012 10:44 EDT
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Water flows over rocks in Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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Virginia House Delegate Christopher Stolle (R) might be on the right-wing fringe when it comes to climate science, but at least he’s helping fellow lawmakers temper the tea party’s reaction to costly government studies on the matter.

In a legislative dust-up earlier this year, according to reporter Scott Harper, writing for The Virginian-Pilot, Stolle told Virginia State Senator Ralph Northam (D) that the terms “climate change” and “sea-level rise” are “liberal code words” that must be excised from a study request, or risk having that request shelved.

Shockingly enough: Even though Republicans control the state’s general assembly and hold the tie-breaking vote in the Virginia Senate, they voted to approve $138,000 to fund the study after Northam allowed the term “sea-level rise” to be swapped out for “recurrent flooding.”

While prior administrations in Virginia, namely that of Gov. Tim Kaine (D), were quite proactive about studying climate change, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has said in public that he does not believe human activity is influencing the earth’s climate. His administration also shuttered Gov. Kaine’s climate change commission, which had produced numerous reports on the threats posed to the state by sea-level rise and warmer temperatures.

Ever since then, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has been pushed by the legislature to stop using the scientific terms “climate change” or “sea-level rise,” swapping them for “coastal resilience,” Laura McKay, director of coastal zone management programs, told the Pilot.

McDonnell’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, also embarked on a witch hunt for research errors at the University of Virginia by attempting to force University president Teresa A. Sullivan to turn over scientists’ records and internal communications. The state’s Supreme Court ultimately sided with Sullivan earlier this year, but she’s since announced plans to resign due to an unspecified “philosophical difference of opinion.”

A study released last week by The Nature Conservancy identified Virginia as home to a number of vital life “strongholds” that may be used as refuges if predictions of dramatically worsening climate event prove accurate. The group found that while Virginia may face some of the worst effects from sea-level rise in the whole country, its forests, swamps and mountains may one day provide a haven for humans and animals migrating away from coastal areas.

“These strongholds will be critical to all life as the threats of climate change continue to grow,” Michael Lipford, Virginia executive director of The Nature Conservancy, told The Associated Press. “They could serve as breeding grounds and seed banks for many plant and animal species that otherwise may be unable to find suitable habitat due to climate change.”

Rep. Stolle, Sen. Northam and McKay did not respond to requests for comment.

Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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