Pennsylvania is failing to address Climate Change
By: Larry J. Schweiger
America is experiencing the early impacts of a rapidly changing climate. The Southwest has been overwhelmed with a drought that has been growing for more than a decade. Soon, if not abated, major Southwestern cities like Phoenix will run out of water. Forest fires have doubled in acres burned and have dramatically increased in intensity. Warming winters have fueled bark beetles causing forest diebacks destroying millions of acres of western and boreal forests. Super Storms, mega-floods and hurricanes are destroying property at a rate that is increasing insured losses by two percent per year. There has never been an environmental threat in the history of humankind as profound and far-reaching as global warming.
Here in Pennsylvania models predict that heat waves and river flooding will pose a growing challenge to the state’s environmental, social, and economic systems. This will increase the vulnerability of our residents, especially its most disadvantaged populations and those concentrated along rivers and floodplains. In mountainous regions of Pennsylvania, more intense precipitation events will trigger greater flash floods, particularly in valleys, where people, infrastructure, and agriculture tend to concentrate.
During extreme heat events, nighttime temperatures in cities are several degrees higher than surrounding countrysides, leading to increased heat-related deaths among the elderly and those less able to recover from the heat of the day. Since the hottest days in in cities like Pittsburgh are often associated with stagnant air with high concentrations of ground-level ozone and other pollutants, the combination of heat stress and poor air quality can pose a major health risk to young children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions including asthma. Moreover, inequities exist in adaptive capacities among the poor, who may be overwhelmed by a changing climate.
Infrastructure will be increasingly compromised by climate-related hazards, including intense precipitation events triggered by erratic weather patterns and warming oceans. Agriculture, fisheries, and terrestrial ecosystems will be increasingly compromised by climate change impacts. Farmers will experience more erosion and sediment runoff events and may be forced to explore new crop options, but these adaptations can be costly and not risk-free.
During “Climate Week” when nations of the world are making pledges and commitments in NYC, we see little resolve to address the existential threat here in Pennsylvania. Ranking third among the states as a carbon polluter, Pennsylvania is a major emitter annually dumping about 245 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Yet, Governor Corbett in the past has questioned the science behind climate change as a threat, falsely characterizing it as a “subject of debate” among scientists. The Governor has defunded programs to research climate change impacts to the state, purged references to it on state websites and has eliminated or defunded programs to encourage renewable energy development and energy conservation.
The proposed EPA rule before us must be seen as a first step as it seeks an overall 30% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030 based on 2005 levels. This is a modest target that will be inadequate to avoid the feared 2 degree C. increase in global temperatures. It’s intended to be a first step. Yet, the DEP acknowledges that its initial strategy for compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan would fail to meet even the modest goals. Governor Tom Corbett had the audacity to actually ask President Obama to rescind the rule and most recently questioned the legality of the rule in a letter to the president signed by 14 other Republican governors. The Governor’s actions incidentally directly contradict the DEP White paper and cover letter sent to the EPA administrator on April 10th In this letter and paper, Abruzzo sought the very flexibility that the Governor is now challenging as illegal.
Christopher Abruzzo, Governor Corbett’s DEP secretary, who resigned yesterday in an unrelated porn-scandal, testified at his confirmation hearing that he believes climate change is happening and humans are contributing, but he hasn’t read anything that suggests it’s a problem. “I’ve not read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude there are adverse impacts to human beings, animals, or plant life at this small level of climate change.” It turns out that Abruzzo was too busy watching porn on his office computer to notice the many published “adverse impacts to human beings, animals or plant life”…
Building a clean 21st century energy economy creates good jobs, increases efficiencies for homes and businesses and will improve overall competitiveness to move Pennsylvania out of the bottom as a job-creating state. Rather than researching a wide range of options for how Pennsylvania can comply with this rule in ways that will save consumers money and create more jobs, our Governor resists needed changes. Instead, Gov. Corbett is choosing to stonewall and attack the merits of the rule.
We have a moral obligation to act now to protect our children’s future against the ravages of climate change. State-level leadership comes with the responsibility embedded in our constitution to act in the best interests of all the people of Pennsylvania “including generations yet to come.” Any elected official or policymaker who has not discovered the truth about climate change simply has not sought the truth. Willful blindness is a spiritual matter as it places political expediency over ethical leadership. Regardless of our faith or worldview, we must all agree that wrecking the climate system is a deeply moral, profoundly spiritual and intensely ethical issue.
Pennsylvania needs a leader who cares for our children’s future.