OPED: Storms show climate change here and now

Jon Clark
Citizens' Climate Lobby

These are words from the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which takes an in-depth look at climate change impacts on the U.S.:

“Heavy downpours are increasing nationally, especially over the last three to five decades. Largest increases are in the Midwest and Northeast. Increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events are projected for all U.S. regions.” 

This past weekend, York and Lancaster counties had a taste of what climate change looks like locally.

The National Weather Service reported 5 to 10 inches of rain fell on parts of Lancaster, York and Lebanon counties over just a few hours. 

On one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, major interstate highways were shut down in the Susquehanna Valley as sections of the highways turned into rivers.

The Associated Press reported, “An eastbound Amtrak train that left Harrisburg was stranded for 6½ hours due to flooding in Mount Joy, where forecasters said almost 11 inches of rain was reported.”

AP also reported, “It was a lot of rushing water really quick.” Danielle Krodel, of Elizabethtown, who had to turn back because of flooding on Route 283, told LNP, “There was no warning whatsoever.” 

York and Lancaster counties issued disaster declarations. Gov. Wolf announced, “Yesterday, Pennsylvania experienced significant flash flooding that impacted roads, bridges, homes and critical infrastructure.” 

I disagree with Ms. Krodel’s assessment. While she may have not been warned of the intense flooding she would experience that day, there have been plenty of warnings by climate scientists over the span of decades, and we ignored them. 

A man is rescued from an SUV on Bridge Valley Road at Chiques Creek on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in West Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, Pa. A band of unusually heavy rain Friday afternoon over a swath of southcentral Pennsylvania closed roads and stranded vehicles on one of the busiest travel days of the year. (Blaine Shahan/LNP/LancasterOnline via AP)

More:York County officials: Call 2-1-1 for help cleaning up from storm

More:Unusually heavy rain in central Pennsylvania closes roads

More:PHOTOS: Unusually heavy rain drenches York, Lancaster counties

We continue to ignore them by electing politicians to offices at every level who discount the warnings of climate scientists.

We will continue to pay for those unheeded warnings with increasing damage to our homes, local roads and bridges and loss of life. 

In 2015, Climate Central released the report “Across U.S., Heaviest Downpours On The Rise,” in which they listed the top 50 cities with biggest increases in heavy downpours. Harrisburg was No. 7 on the list with a 283 percent increase in heavy downpours from 2005 to 2014 compared to 1950 to 1959. Lancaster was No. 14 on the list with a 112 percent increase.

If we continue to pump unlimited quantities of carbon pollution into the atmosphere at no cost to polluters, we can expect to see worsening impacts on our infrastructure.  Again, from the National Climate Assessment: “Climate change and its impacts threaten the well-being of urban residents in all U.S. regions. Essential infrastructure systems such as water, energy supply, and transportation will increasingly be compromised by interrelated climate change impacts. The nation’s economy, security, and culture all depend on the resilience of urban infrastructure systems.” 

Our local infrastructure including roads, bridges, sewage treatment plants, electricity generating stations, etc., were all built at a time of climate stability and were not built with the worsening impacts of climate change in mind.

Recently CBS News reported on a controversial proposal to build a 60-mile "spine" of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast to protect Gulf Coast refineries from climate change ("Big oil asks government to protect its Texas facilities from climate change," Aug. 23).

According to the article, “Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities.” 

The fossil fuels industry is draining our economy, not only from the costs of damages from the effects of climate change, but also by demanding taxpayers pay to protect it from the climate-related consequences of burning its own product. 

Citizens’ Climate Lobby has been advocating for a solution called fee and dividend that will put a price on carbon pollution and return all the revenue generated back to households. 

George Scott, who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 10th District, supports this proposal on his website, saying, “This policy would combat climate change, improve public health, and ultimately grow the economy. Professional calculations estimate that, after 10 years, this policy would decrease carbon emissions by 33%, reduce pollution-related deaths by 13,000 persons annually, and lead to a net increase of 2.1 million jobs.”

We’ve been warned repeatedly of the consequences of carbon pollution. It’s time to heed those warnings and vote for politicians who will enact policies to address climate change, because the problem is very real and affecting us here in the Susquehanna Valley now.

— Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional co-coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Lancaster.