This summer has been a stark reminder that climate change isn’t something that will occur in the far-off future.
It’s happening here and now.
Our planet just experienced the hottest July on record, threatening agriculture and posing a serious risk to vulnerable populations, like the elderly, those with heart and lung conditions, young children, and people who work outdoors.
And close to home, we’re seeing that the impact of severe storms right here in Bucks County, where severe flooding caused by ultra-warm surface temperatures over the Atlantic Ocean led to the tragic drowning of multiple individuals last month. We share in the heartbreak over these deaths and recognize that we must do everything we can to prevent outcomes like this in the future.
These risks are only growing as climate change causes more severe and frequent weather events, like flash flooding, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.
According to Flood Factor, Bucks County as a whole is at a moderate risk of flooding in the next 30 years. This has a greater than 26 percent chance of nearly 14,000 properties being severely impacted by flooding during this timeframe.
The devastation caused by severe weather for families can’t be measured, as family homes are severely damaged and precious memories washed away.
But we also know that these floods can have long term and expensive impacts to the community in the form of damaged roads and public transit routes, as well as flooded utilities.
These severe weather events also negatively impact water quality, as our county’s aging sewer systems become overwhelmed and are forced to discharge untreated sewers into rivers and streams, causing health risks for wildlife as well as families who drink this water.
All told, the Center for Climate Integrity predicts that Pennsylvania will need to spend $15 billion by 2040 to protect the health and safety of residents from the effects of climate change.
This eye-popping number includes the costs of upgrading air conditioning in schools, increasing storm drainage, reinforcing critical infrastructure like roads and bridges and planting street trees to lower the temperatures in our neighborhoods.
So what can we do about this ongoing crisis?
First, Pennsylvania needs to fully realize the benefits of President Biden’s Clean Energy Plan.
This historic legislation, signed a year ago, turbocharges investments to create jobs while building a 21st Century clean energy economy that will also lower energy costs in the long-term for families and Pennsylvania businesses.
For homeowners, now is a great time to utilize the tax credits from the Clean Energy Plan to switch from a gas-powered furnace to a heat pump, or replace your old gas-fired dryer with a modern, electrical one.
And thanks to these tax credits, electric vehicles are becoming much more affordable for working families – as the president’s bipartisan infrastructure law provides the commonwealth with more resources to build charging stations.
As a state with a long history of innovation in the energy sector, we also have an opportunity to lead the nation in the clean energy transition.
To do that, our local, county and state leaders need to work together with the federal government to bring jobs to Pennsylvania manufacturing new solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles.
And because we know that Biden’s Clean Energy Plan will only get us 80 percent of the way toward meeting our climate goals, we need additional leadership from Harrisburg and at the local level to reduce climate pollution.
This means maximizing the investment coming from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state cap-and-invest program that will provide hundreds of millions of dollars annually to Pennsylvania clean energy projects.
And because we know that climate change is already here, we need to continue making investments that protect the health and safety of vulnerable populations so that we can cope with a warming planet – from investments in air conditioning to more resilient water and transportation infrastructure.
We’re at a critical moment in the fight against climate change, but I’m confident that we have the tools at our disposal to avert a climate catastrophe as long as we continue to work together.