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WVU expert compares effects of climate change to eroding infrastructure

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Dr. Robert Duval, Dr. Paolo Farah, Dr. Jason Hubbart
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A West Virginia University professor in the School of Public Health began teaching about climate change more than 20 years ago, hoping reasonable people would see a trend and take action to prevent melting ice caps and rising seas. Instead, the issue has become a political dispute, with many key elected officials saying they don’t believe it’s happening.

And that's a problem, says Robert Duval, chair of the Department of Health Policy, Management and Leadership. Duval predicts the price for a protracted controversy will be quite high.

Duval is one of several WVU experts available to discuss various issues surrounding the climate change debate.

“You ignore (climate change) too long and the costs become so prohibitive that the political will to fix it erodes as much as roads and bridges,” he said. "Preventive maintenance gives way to enormous emergency fixes when the structure collapses. The difference with climate change is that many of the roads and bridges will be underwater.”

Climate change threatens more than infrastructure, as Duval has seen through the spread of disease.

“Suddenly we have dozens of new emerging infectious diseases —ebola, zika, West Nile, dengue, lyme, malaria — that result from changing habitat of the animal vectors that carry them,” Duval said. “The policy argument is beginning to subtly shift from what might we do to stop it, to what can we do to survive it.

Duval predicts a carbon tax in the U.S. that is, perhaps, compelled by international pressure. The tax, he said, will “stave off even more massive economic dislocations down the road.”

“Climate denial buys time for those who currently benefit from the fossil fuel market,” he continued. “It will not prevent the inevitable. It may, however, delay it enough to make the economic deluge every bit as real as the flooding of coastal cities around the planet.”

Duval can be reached at 304.581.1826 or Robert.Duval@hsc.wvu.edu.

Dr. Paolo Farah, assistant professor of public administration, has co-authored several papers on the implementation of a carbon tax, which he posits China will implement in a few years, with the likely effect of slowing its economy in the short term.

“(A) measure such as a tax on carbon dioxide emissions is not only a domestic issue, but also a much more complex problem relating to international climate change negotiations and international trade,” Farah and his co-authors wrote. “(T)he (Chinese) Government is taking positive measures to solve environmental pollution, even if the move will slow down China’s GDP growth.”

Farah says climate change requires humans to work together to work on issues of soil and water depletion, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity.

“The narrative of constant growth, never-ending economic and technological progress, and dominance of humans over nature is slowly confronted with its limitations,” he said. Also, Farah notes that the advance of climate change will most effect those who are least likely to remove themselves from harm. “It is indeed the very poorest, exposed, and most vulnerable who cannot leave their destroyed livelihood, but will have to stay and eventually perish.”

Farah can be reached at 304.376.8725 or at pdfarah@mail.wvu.edu.

Jason Hubbart, director of WVU’s Institute of Water Security and Science, is another WVU expert on the subject.

Hubbart says there is no argument that climate is changing and human-induced carbon emissions contribute to those changes, including changes to water supply.

“Humans rely on available water for agriculture, energy production, industry/manufacturing and recreation, and depend on a clean supply of water to sustain human health,” he said. “These needs are unequivocal.”

He said many places in the United States, water supplies and availability will be increasingly limited, while other U.S. locations will receive more precipitation and resultant water quality and infrastructure problems.

“Regardless of the political viewpoint, it is critical that work continue to plan for an uncertain future of what is arguably one of the world’s most valuable, yet increasingly limited resources—fresh water,” Hubbart said.

Hubbart’s contact information is 304.293.2472 or Jason.Hubbart@mail.wvu.edu. 

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.

 

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pp/03/20/17


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