Monday, October 28, 2013

Corbett administration downplays effects of climate change in Pa: As I See It

Last week the Corbett administration quietly released one of its more remarkable documents: the Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update. 

The report, which was required by law and 18 months late, points out, to the apparent discomfort of  Gov. Tom Corbett and his staff, that temperatures in the state are indeed rising and this rise is caused by our and our fellow citizens’ activities, such as burning coal, oil, and natural gas, which release greenhouse gases. 

It concludes that “while significant economic impacts could occur within certain climate sensitive sectors, Pennsylvania’s overall economy would be little affected by projected climate change.”

In light of events such as Superstorm Sandy–the massive 2012 hurricane off the Atlantic Coast which killed 159 people, flooded New York City, and caused $66 billion in damages–one wonders how the group which produced Pennsylvania Climate Impacts could make such a claim?

For one, the report’s authors completely ignore Pennsylvania’s saltwater-impacted east coast. As the climate has warmed and glaciers have melted, sea levels are rising. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points out in its recently released report that between 1971 and 2010 the sea level has risen 2.54 inches. 

For the years 1993-2010, however, the rate of rise per year has nearly doubled, increasing from 0.067 inches for 1971-2010 to 0.126 in the last 17 years.

Climatologist Qin Dahe observes: “As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise, but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years.” Depending on the rate of temperature increase and glacier melting, we could see the sea level rise as much as a foot in the next 50 years.

As the world heats up, Pennsylvania can expect to receive its share of drought as well as floods.

A warmer ocean, the international report points out, also stores more energy. This means that storms generated over the Atlantic will have more power and thus be more severe. With higher sea levels and more power, storms that sweep in from the Delaware Bay will be devastating to the cities, towns, and developed properties on the lower Delaware River. Chester and Philadelphia will be subject to more frequent floods which will inundate much more property. 

The cost in direct damage and lost economic activity of such climate change-generated weather disasters will run in the billions of dollars.

A warmer atmosphere for coastal regions typically means a wetter climate because warmer air holds more moisture.

It also means more severe storms and flooding. Over the past 225 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) list of historical floods on the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg has suffered from 49 floods. Thirteen of those floods, 26 percent, occurred in the past 25 years. 

Eight of those floods, 16 percent occurred in the last decade. 2011 was a record-setting year with three floods hitting Harrisburg, the first time ever in its history the city has experienced that number of floods in one year. 

The worst was the September 2011 flood caused by Tropical Storm Lee. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission reports that it forced the evacuation of over 100,000 people and caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.

Unfortunately, extreme weather caused by global warming does not just include hurricanes, tropical storms, and subsequent deluges. 

One of the other major effects is drought. NOAA reports that one of the most damaging severe weather events of the last decade was the 2012 drought. It effected half the country and caused $30 billion in damages due to widespread crop failures. It was also responsible for 123 heat-related fatalities.

As the world heats up, Pennsylvania can expect to receive its share of drought as well as floods.

It is clear from the facts above that global warming and the extreme weather it produces, is going to impose significant costs on Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians. More property will be destroyed, more peoples’ lives will be disrupted, and more people will die than would have if the world’s temperature was not increasing.

The great challenge of our time is: do we ignore the basic realities and impacts of global warming as the Governor and the authors of Pennsylvania Climate Impacts appear to want to do, or do we take action–personal and political–to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions and change the course of global warming?

John Rossi is the co-chair of the Climate Disruption Committee of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

“And the People Shall Lead: Centralizing Frontline Community Leadership in the Movement Towards a Sustainable Planet”

A movement support paper about barriers and opportunities for improving collaboration between big environmental organizations and grassroots/frontline communities.

The paper is based on notes from “Engaging Non-Traditional Groups in Coal Plant Retirement” a session the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the American Lung Association, the Sierra Club and the NAACP co-facilitated at the  February 2011 Coal Plant Retirement conference.  It also includes illustrative scenarios from the experiences of people/organizations in the movement. The observations and recommendations are applicable beyond the environmental and climate justice arena,
as the dynamics described can be found in other movements worldwide.

We hope this paper will provide thought-provoking illumination of the challenges faced as groups have tried to collaborate, as well as pathways to building a more cohesive movement, led by frontline communitieswith principles of democratic organizing modeled by the Jemez Principles.

Jacqui Patterson
Director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program
4805 Mt. Hope Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215