OP-ED: Pennsylvania's climate goals a good start, but where's Congress?

Jon Clark
Citizens' Climate Lobby

Thank you for your May 7 editorial “Rally around Pa.’s new climate goals,” and thank you to Gov. Wolf for pledging to join the U.S. Climate Alliance. Also, thank you to state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale for gathering input for a report on the state’s response to climate change. 

Humanity is far behind in responding to the threat of climate change due to decades of climate change denial.

Recently Reuters reported about a new study that shows climate data has now reached a so-called “gold standard" of scientific evidence, meaning that the researchers' conclusions are more than 99.7 percent accurate.

Benjamin Santer, lead author of the study from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said, “The narrative out there that scientists don’t know the cause of climate change is wrong. We do.”

Scientists cite burning fossil fuels as the cause of more severe floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.

According to the latest Franklin and Marshall College poll, “most Pennsylvania voters, 67 percent, believe climate change is causing problems and 68 percent believe state government should do more to address the issues.”

More:Cap-and-trade emissions: An unrecognized consensus in Pennsylvania?

More:Flooding, fallen trees close roads around York County

More:Old, misleading info among perils of teaching climate change

More:U.N. report says nature is in worst shape in human history

This was a 5-point increase from last year. Concern about climate change among Pennsylvania residents is increasing, not surprising given the increasing number of disasters we’re experiencing nationwide.

States are increasingly looking for solutions to climate change as Congress is far too slow to respond to increasing damages from our inaction.

AccuWeather estimated the damages and economic loss from the Midwest “bomb-cyclone” flooding in March to be about $12.5 billion. According to Dr. Joel N. Myers, AccuWeather founder and CEO, “These losses occurred in farm states that contribute significantly to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. With the ground already saturated and more flooding rain expected, our independent forecast shows that the aggregate economic toll of these floods will be far greater than official estimates initially suggest.”

AccuWeather says the $12.5 billion estimate includes damage to homes and their contents, cars, business and farm losses — including crops and livestock — contamination of drinking water wells, infrastructure damage and auxiliary business losses. The estimate also includes the long-term impact from the flooding, which will likely contribute to, and exacerbate, health issues.

The National Climate Assessment quietly released by the Trump Administration last fall already shows the frequency of heavy precipitation events in the Midwest has increased by 42% compared to earlier in the 20th century, and the assessment warns climate change is only going to make flooding in the region worse.

Reuters reported recently that U.S. Agriculture Under Secretary Bill Northey said the USDA has never experienced this large of a disaster impact on stored crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has several programs to help farmers after natural disasters, including assistance in the case of livestock losses or damaged fields, but none specifically to reimburse farmers for lost crops that are being stored. 

In August 2018, residents in York and Lancaster counties got a small taste of what midwestern farmers are experiencing now. A flash flood dumped as much as 10 inches of rain on the area in just a few hours. At that time, I experienced a “creek” running through my backyard in Lancaster County where there is no creek. The federal government declared York and Lancaster counties disaster zones, which made federal aid available to residents who sustained flood damage. 

Scientists are telling us storms will get worse, and the damages will continue to mount if we don’t act to address our carbon pollution problem. 

Climate change doesn’t care about the political affiliation of those it affects. The midwestern states drowning from recent flooding are solid Republican states, yet we don’t read enough about Republicans being part of the solution. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763) introduced in the House of Representatives has one Republican on board. I am thankful for Florida Republican Frances Rooney’s leadership in his party on this issue. 

The Energy Innovation Act would shift some of the money going to the fossil fuels industry and put it in the pockets of Americans being affected by climate change. Check out to see how it works and then call your member of Congress and ask him or her to cosponsor HR 763 because you’d like your carbon dividend delivered to your bank account ASAP.

We are in the midst of a global climate crisis and thankfully Pennsylvania and other states are stepping in to fill the leadership void left by Congress’s inaction, but this is not enough. Americans are suffering now from decades of Congress not taking climate change seriously. I encourage Reps. Lloyd Smucker and Scott Perry to sign on as cosponsors to HR 763 and make climate change an issue that bridges the divide between Republicans and Democrats. The Energy Innovation Act is a market-driven policy that both parties can get behind.

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