How cli­mate change is al­ready af­fect­ing the Le­high Val­ley

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE -

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.

Kim­berly Clay

Flora Car­doni

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