How climate change is already affecting the Lehigh Valley
Sitting around and talking about the weather used to be just mundane small talk. Yet with the increasing regularity of extreme weather, it’s less of a simple conversation starter and more urgent of a topic, with severe weather affecting our communities, local economies and everyday lives.
This is climate change and it’s happening right here, right now. This July, the region experienced its worst heat wave of the year. The National Weather Service issued an “excessive heat warning” that lasted for five full days due to high heat index values for the Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia and most of the Delaware Valley. This extreme heat was part of the hottest July ever recorded globally.
The extreme heat wave should not be a surprise. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists showed potentially lethal heat waves will continue to increase as a result of climate change. This means that by the end of the century, millions of Pennsylvanians could experience a heat index above 105 degrees for a month or more every year if we fail to limit global warming, putting us all at risk.
For sufferers of asthma and other
respiratory health problems, hotter days often mean it’s harder to breathe. That’s because extreme heat is also closely linked to poor air quality and high levels of dangerous particulate pollution.
The American Lung Association recently gave the Lehigh Valley metro area an F for ozone pollution. And a 2018 report by our statewide environmental group, PennEnvironment, “Trouble in the Air,” showed that more than one out of every three days was unhealthy for Lehigh Valley residents to breathe the air due to elevated levels of smog and particulate pollution. As our climate continues to warm, our air quality will continue to worsen, leading to as many as 1,130 premature deaths in the year 2030.
Extreme heat is only one of the impacts we’re experiencing in the Lehigh Valley. Almost immediately after the last heatwave, extreme downpours triggered flash flood warnings across the region. 2019 is already the wettest year on record, and July 2019 was the wettest July. The Lehigh Valley has experienced above-average precipitation in every month of 2019. This can be attributed to human-caused climate change, which intensifies the heaviest downpours and increases the risk and severity of flooding. These flash floods come so quickly that they catch many local residents off guard, leading to more road closures and water rescues.
These negative impacts from global warming and extreme weather will inevitably continue and worsen without immediate action to fight climate change.
Luckily, experts know what it will take to tackle climate change, and society has the tools at our fingertips to implement these solutions. The path forward requires that we transition to 100% renewable energy in Pennsylvania, and across the nation, to stop the worst impacts of climate change. A recent study by PennEnvironment stated that “America’s renewable energy resources are sufficient to power the nation several times over.” Even more promising, the technology that’s needed to harness clean, renewable energy is advancing at an incredible pace.
Not only do we have the solutions and the technology at our fingertips to achieve it, but the public has long supported a transition to clean, renewable energy. Here in Pennsylvania, the majority of Pennsylvanians believe that climate change is impacting our lives and want local governments to invest in a renewable energy future. And political support for a 100% renewable future is also growing.
However, while more elected officials are calling for policies that will get us to transition off of fossil fuels, global warming polluters and their allies still control the levers of legislative processes. So the question is: Will we build enough political will to bring about the 100% renewable energy future we need and deserve?
We see the impacts of climate change every time we step outside into the stifling summer heat, receive more frequent weather alerts on our cell phones warning of pending flash floods, or suffer the health impacts of increasingly polluted air. But we have the solutions we need to tackle it.
Transitioning to renewable energy will not only mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, but it will better position Pennsylvanians to pursue the “right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural environment” that is guaranteed for ourselves and future generations under the commonwealth’s constitution. So let’s build the renewable energy future we deserve.
Kimberly Clay is a student at City University of New York School of Law and a climate defender intern with PennEnvironment, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. Flora Cardoni is PennEnvironment’s climate defender campaign director.
Flash flooding on Aug. 13, 2018, wedges branches under the Meadows Road Bridge in Lower Saucon Township near Hellertown. Scientists are predicting more such events in the Lehigh Valley if climate change continues unchecked.