Tropical Depression (formerly Hurricane) Ida hit us hard, depositing torrential, flood-inducing rains across a huge swath of the eastern United States. Here in Pennsylvania, dangerous flash flooding and tornadoes destroyed homes and vehicles, disrupted and contaminated water supplies, devastated communities, and resulted in tragic and avoidable deaths.
Unfortunately, Ida is just the latest and most extreme manifestation of climate change we’ve experienced in the Keystone State this summer.
On Aug. 12, heat and humidity levels posed so grave a threat to public health that Gov. Tom Wolf sent an official warning to everyone in our state. Dangerous heat and humidity like we saw earlier this month used to happen once every few years, but now we’re seeing it multiple times every summer. The day after Wolf sent his excessive heat warning, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared that July was the hottest month yet recorded on this planet.
Sadly, extreme heat no longer comes as a surprise. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been warning the world about the threat of global warming since its first report in 1990. And the IPCC’s sixth version of the report, released in August, warns of increasingly damaging and deadly heat waves, droughts and floods unless we begin “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
While the latest IPCC report presents dire consequences of inaction, it offers hope, too. We can prevent climate change from getting much worse if we take remediating actions now.
As the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States, Pennsylvania has a responsibility to lead when it comes to implementing climate solutions and reducing carbon emissions. And Pennsylvanians from all walks of life know we’re already experiencing adverse effects of climate change in a variety of ways.
In summer, we may experience climate change most directly with more common oppressive heat waves, but we can’t ignore the air quality problems caused by climate change-stoked wildfires, and the increasingly powerful rainstorms that lead to more flooding across the state. Ida is the third tropical weather system to strike in just the latter half of August: Pennsylvania endured flash floods from the remnants of Tropic Storm Fred and appears to have dodged a bullet with Tropical Storm Henri.
If you’re someone who enjoys visiting our iconic state parks and forests, climate change will find you there, too. Beyond the prevalence of disease-bearing ticks and mosquitoes, look out for poison ivy, which is now stronger and itchier than ever thanks to the same rising carbon dioxide levels that are warming the planet. Love trout fishing? Climate change threatens these fish by making streams “low and warm” according to Larry Myers, president of the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Climate change is also changing our winters for the worse. Hotter temperatures usually mean shorter, slushier seasons for skiing in Seven Springs, sledding and other winter pursuits. When it does snow, we’re more likely to see dangerously high snowfalls. The eastern U.S. is seeing increasingly frequent extreme snowstorms, in part because of warmer ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic which leads to higher amounts of moisture and greater intensification of storms.
The solutions are clear: We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate these effects. To hit the benchmarks necessary to avert a catastrophic 3 degrees warming of the planet, Congress needs to follow through on infrastructure investments discussed in recent months — and we need to hold the Biden administration accountable for its campaign pledges. But after four years of federal inaction and — even worse — some actions that exacerbated global warming, the fact that the federal government is again seriously addressing climate change gives us momentum.
Here in Pennsylvania, over the past few years, we have been working on several initiatives to help lower emissions and spur clean energy. When it comes to the lowest-hanging fruit, Pennsylvania is on the verge of joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in 2022. In July, Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board approved a regulation that allows the Keystone State to join 11 eastern states from Virginia to Maine in participating in RGGI to cap and reduce global-warming carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. Sadly, some state legislators in Harrisburg have tried to impede Pennsylvania from joining RGGI, but with the Independent Regulatory Review Commission’s recent approval of the regulation, Wolf can make it official.
Given the outsized role of fossil-fuel emissions in causing global warming, committing to 100% renewable energy should be our next step in Pennsylvania. Eight states have already committed to a timeline to transition to powering their electric grids with 100% renewable energy sources. Forty Pennsylvania cities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have already committed to 100% renewable electricity. With the support of state Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, and state Sens. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware and Montgomery, and Katie Muth, D-Berks, Chester and Montgomery, and people across our state, it’s time to become state number nine.
Tackling a crisis takes strong strategies and prudent decision-making. Since the first IPCC report came out 30 years ago, we’ve developed strong strategies, but we haven’t made enough prudent decisions at local, state and federal levels to thwart climate change. But as the IPCC report notes, we’re running out of time, so we need to implement new plans as soon as possible. Pennsylvania can be a leader in preserving cleaner air, cleaner water and healthier communities for generations to come. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Flora Cardoni is the field director for PennEnvironment. Michael Mann is distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, and author of “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet.”
Credit: Source link