Climate change is here; we now must deal with it

York Dispatch editorial board

That powerful storms that swept through the region over the weekend brought down trees and utility lines, left some 10,000 York County residents without power and punctuated a brand-new global climate report that said the window is all but closed on the possibility of reversing the effects of the warming planet.

The report came from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes leading climate scientists from around the globe. They minced no words, characterizing this sixth assessment report as their “final warning” on the climate crisis.

Unless the world’s developed nations fast-track efforts to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the devastating effects that are already well underway will continue to accelerate.

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Debris from downed poles litters the 3000 block of Kingston Road after weekend storms downed power lines in Springettsbury Township, Sunday, Aprii 2, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Our world needs climate action on all fronts,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres. “Everything, everywhere, all at once.”

While the language is starker and the evidence more compelling, the message should not come as a surprise. World leaders have known for decades that the massive amounts of man-made gases being pumped into the atmosphere cannot be sustained and that they are having a direct impact on rising global temperatures.

And that is having a direct impact on weather conditions around the planet, from more intense and prolonged heatwaves to rising and more acidic oceans to stronger and more frequent storms like the one that struck the eastern U.S. and Pennsylvania last week.

While there were upwards of 90,000 state businesses and residences left in the dark following the storm, the central Pennsylvania region got off easy. The system spun off powerful tornadoes that left nearly three dozen dead across nine states. Thousands of structures were damaged or demolished, national air traffic was disrupted and the cleanup will continue for weeks.

The silver lining: Effective use of early warning systems is being credit with saving an untold number of lives.

And therein lies a lesson.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the type of international cooperation and sacrifice necessary to significantly reverse the effects of our warming planet simply do not exist. There is neither the political nor public will in the United States and other leading polluters like China and India have been likewise sanguine about the crisis.

That puts the pressure on state, regional and local officials to prepare now for the near certainty of increased severe weather. Climate change hasn’t been linked directly to tornadic activity but it contributes to most other extreme weather events including heat waves, torrential rainfall, and more powerful storms and hurricanes.

It’s those powerful storm systems that Pennsylvanians will need to increasingly gird for.

The state experienced an outsize number of power outrages during last weekend’s storms (more than 1 million customers lost power in storm-struck states, all told). And it’s no secret the state is prone to severe flooding.

That doesn’t mean state residents should be condemned to intermittent power outages and washed-out roads.

State and corporate leaders must consider the warmer, wetter future that’s very likely in store as they craft infrastructure upgrades, consider mitigation strategies, and formulate public health and emergency response plans — including early-warning systems like those that were so effective last week.

The climate crisis isn’t coming, it’s here. And that’s because those in a position to do something about it either ignored or downplayed the gathering threat.

Failing to develop strategies to mitigate and respond to the results of this national and international failure would be to mimic the ignorance and apathy that got us here in the first place.

The time for reversing climate changed has passed. Efforts now must focus on living with it.