Are West Virginia’s Floods The Result Of Climate Change? And A Congressman Gone AWOL

For a state that has been racked with recession and unemployment, the flash floods that have ravaged West Virginia don’t help much. But the key question to ask — no matter how unpleasant — is whether the coal sector there shares some of the blame. At issue is the concept of climate change and whether the warmer atmosphere is holding more water and therefore intensifying the storms. To that end, West Virginia’s prime industry has been coal, a fuel that when burned is responsible for a third of all human-induced carbon emissions. Even more, the surface mining that has occurred is lopping off whole mountaintops and removing the vegetation, leaving the landscape vulnerable to erosion. The water running off the mountain is thus more rapid, adding to the problem of flash flooding, says Kathleen Miller, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., in a phone interview. “The climate is highly variable and you can’t attribute specific events to climate change,” adds Dr. Miller. “But when you look long term, many environmental changes are all pointing in the same direction and supporting the conclusion that global climate change is underway: melting sea ice, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. “It is the weight of the evidence that must be considered.” 


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