EDITORIAL: Adding up the cost of climate change in Pa.

York Dispatch Editorial Board

As Pennsylvania continues to wring out from the wettest year on record, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has hit the road to gather input for a report on the state’s response to climate change.

A plan of action is exactly what’s needed after a drenching year punctuated by damaging back-to-back storm systems last summer. The deluges — in late July and over Labor Day weekend — struck with little warning but plenty of strength, leaving York County and the surrounding area awash in floodwaters, damage and debris.

Those storms reinforce DePasquale’s argument that climate change is not only an environmental threat but an economic challenge — and nowhere more so than York County, which is already prone to flooding.

Bottom line: The impacts of climate change are severe, local, costly and ongoing, and the response must be robust and immediate. And York County is not alone.

Pennsylvania saw 50 percent more rainfall than normal in 2018, its wettest year on record, according to the National Weather Service. Of course, “normal” may be a thing of the past as a warming planet continues to alter weather patterns, resulting, for example, in stronger hurricanes, heavier downpours and more frequent storms.

And that’s just one end of the spectrum. The Department of Plant Science at Penn State predicts more extremely hot days are likely to occur in late summer in Pennsylvania — a change that puts the state’s corn and dairy farmers in the crosshairs.

In this Jan. 15, 2013, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is seen in Harrisburg, Pa. DePasquale said Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, that officials in 18 of 67 counties reported accepting gifts, meals or trips from firms competing to sell new voting machines ahead of the 2020 elections.

In truth, agricultural interests across the board will need to — and in many areas, have already begun to — adjust to the new threats and demands of a changing climate. Planting additional “cover crops” to reduce soil erosion caused by intense storms is but one of the strategies.

But the state’s farming interests shouldn’t be left to their own devices — which is no doubt why organizations like the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau were represented at DePasquale’s recent public hearing on climate change on the campus of Penn State.

They heard a plea for urgency.

“If we don’t act on this problem, the impacts of climate change are going to exceed our adaptive capacity,” Penn State Distinguished Professor Michael Mann told the audience, according to a report by WITF.

That message should be painfully clear, particularly in a month that has seen a devastating cyclone strike southeastern Africa, killing more than 1,000, and unprecedented flooding throughout the Midwest.

Even absent the costly destruction of damaging storms, simply adapting to new and changing weather patterns will require forethought and planning.

As DePasquale pointed out at the hearing, an investment in preemptive measures can help protect not only people and property, but pocketbooks.

“Every time there’s a disaster in Pennsylvania, it’s a hit to the state’s taxpayers,” he said. “As opposed to if we were able to do something beforehand to mitigate this.”

Such mitigation will have to suffice, even though what’s really needed are sweeping, global measures to slow or even halt the vast amounts of man-made greenhouse gases that fuel climate change.

But in a nation whose president refuses to even acknowledge the real and growing threats posed by a warming climate — who, indeed, acts to hasten such threats — state and local officials are left to fill the leadership void.

If executed properly, DePasquale’s report, due out this summer, can prove a welcome tool in helping state interests minimize the costs associated with climate change. But those costs will nonetheless continue to mount if the issue isn’t tackled seriously at the national and international level.