Tropical Depression (formerly Hurricane) Ida hit us hard, depositing torrential rains causing flooding over a huge part of the eastern United States. Here in Pennsylvania, dangerous flash floods and tornadoes have destroyed homes and vehicles, disrupted and contaminated water supplies, devastated communities and resulted in tragic and preventable deaths.
Sadly, Ida is just the most recent and extreme manifestation of climate change we have seen in Keystone State this summer.
On August 12, the heat and humidity levels posed such a threat to public health that Governor Tom Wolf issued an official warning to everyone in our state. The dangerous heat and humidity as we saw earlier this month happened once every few years, but now we see it several times every summer. The day after Wolf sent out his excessive heat warning, the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared July the hottest month on record on this planet.
Unfortunately, the extreme heat is no longer a surprise. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned the world of the threat of global warming since its first report in 1990. And the sixth version of the IPCC report, released in August, puts warning of increasingly damaging and deadly heatwaves, droughts and floods, unless we begin “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”.
While the latest IPCC report presents the dire consequences of inaction, it also offers hope. We can prevent climate change from getting worse if we take corrective action now.
As the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States, Pennsylvania has a responsibility to lead the way when it comes to implementing climate solutions and reducing carbon emissions. And Pennsylvanians from all walks of life know that we are already experiencing the adverse effects of climate change in various ways.
In summer, we can experience climate change most directly with more common oppressive heat waves, but we cannot ignore air quality issues caused by forest fires fueled by climate change and torrential rains. more and more powerful which cause more flooding throughout the state. Ida is the third tropical weather system to strike in the second half of August: Pennsylvania suffered flash floods from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred and appears to have dodged a bullet with Tropical Storm Henri.
If you enjoy visiting our iconic state parks and forests, climate change will find you there, too. Beyond the prevalence of ticks and mosquitoes that carry disease, watch out for poison ivy, which is now stronger and more irritating than ever thanks to the same rising levels of carbon dioxide that are warming the planet. Do you like trout fishing? Climate change threatens these fish by making the waterways “low and warm,” according to Larry Myers, president of the Forbes Trail chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Climate change is also altering our winters for the worse. Warmer temperatures generally mean shorter, wetter seasons for Seven Springs skiing, sledding, and other winter activities. When it snows, we are more likely to see dangerously high snowfall. The eastern United States is experiencing increasingly frequent extreme snowstorms, in part because of warmer ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic, resulting in greater humidity and intensification of storms .
The solutions are clear: we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate these effects. To meet the benchmarks needed to avert catastrophic 3-degree global warming, Congress must follow through on the infrastructure investments discussed in recent months – and we must hold the Biden administration accountable for its campaign commitments. But after four years of federal inaction and – even worse – some actions that have exacerbated global warming, the fact that the federal government is once again seriously tackling climate change is giving us momentum.
Here in Pennsylvania, over the past few years, we have worked on several initiatives to help reduce emissions and boost clean energy. When it comes to the easiest fruits to hope for, Pennsylvania is set to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in 2022. In July, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board approved a regulation that allows the State of Keystone to join 11 states of eastern Virginia. in Maine by participating in the RGGI to cap and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector that cause global warming. Unfortunately, some Harrisburg state lawmakers have attempted to prevent Pennsylvania from joining the RGGI, but with the recent approval of the regulation by the Independent Regulatory Review Board, Wolf can make it official.
Given the outsized role of fossil fuel emissions in global warming, committing to 100% renewable energy should be our next step in Pennsylvania. Eight states have already committed to a transition schedule to supply their electricity grids with 100% renewable energy sources. Forty towns in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have already committed to 100% renewable electricity. With the support of State Representative Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia and des Sens. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware and Montgomery, and Katie Muth, D-Berks, Chester and Montgomery, and people from our state, it’s time to become state number nine.
Dealing with a crisis requires solid strategies and careful decision-making. Since the IPCC’s first report came out 30 years ago, we have developed strong strategies, but we have not made sufficiently careful decisions at the local, state and federal levels to counter climate change. But as the IPCC report notes, we are 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. When we want we can.
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”.