Extreme weather events linked to and exacerbated by climate change are affecting Pennsylvanians and all Americans in big and bad ways, according to two recently released reports.
Spurred by the reports' catalog of severe heat waves, wildfires and rainstorms, coastal and river flooding and agricultural and residential damage, climate activists Tuesday launched a national "100 Days of Climate Action" campaign to promote quick government and individual action to mitigate the problems.
"It's been four years since President Obama said he would take action on climate change issues, but we can't wait another four years to address our changing climate," said Gretchen Alfonso, policy analyst for the Clean Air Council, an environmental organization.
Ms. Alfonso, who is also Pennsylvania organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, a national campaign against air pollution, said the Climate Action campaign will attempt to generate grassroots pressure on the president to mention climate change in his upcoming inaugural and State of the Union speeches, appoint a "climate champion to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and establish a clear climate change policy that emphasizes renewable energy."
According to the draft National Climate Assessment report released for public comment Friday, certain types of extreme weather events, including heat waves, drought, heavy downpours and melting glaciers and polar ice, are part of a pattern of global climate change that is primarily driven by human activity, especially carbon emissions caused by burning of fossil fuels.
For Pennsylvania and the rest of the Northeast, the report projects a future of heat waves, coastal flooding due to sea level rise, river flooding and more extreme precipitation events, along with increased vulnerability to hurricanes, like 2012's Sandy, which claimed 130 lives and caused $80 billion in damage. Agricultural production also will be affected.
"Climate change is already affecting the American people by the thousands, by the millions due to Hurricane Sandy," said the Rev. Mitch Hescox, president and chief executive officer of The Evangelical Environmental Network, a national group based in York. "I see climate change as the greatest moral challenge and issue of our time."
The higher temperatures combined with higher concentrations of ground-level ozone and other pollutants could, the study said, also pose a major health risk to vulnerable populations, including the young and old and those with pre-existing health problems.
"Are we going to accept having some of the unhealthiest air in the nation made worse as temperatures spike?" said Heather Sage, vice president of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, a statewide environmental organization.
The climate assessment report states that large reductions in global emissions of carbon and other pollutants are "necessary to avoid some of the worst impacts and risks of climate change."
Ms. Sage said the state's Climate Action Advisory Committee is continuing its work despite a "lack of attention and support" on the state level.
"There are a lot of efforts being made, especially by the business stakeholders on the committee," she said. "And despite the head in the sand position that some in leadership have taken, we are still making progress."
The national report, produced every four years by a 60-member federal advisory committee made up of scientists and other experts, is required by the 1990 Global Change Research Act. The act mandates a scientific assessment and summary of information about climate change impacts in the United States, as well as recommendations for sustainable adaptation and mitigation strategies.
The public may comment on the report before it is finalized and, later this year, submitted to Congress and President Obama. The report and online comment tool are available at assessment.globalchange.gov.
Also yesterday, a map of extreme weather events affecting the U.S. in 2012, released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows thousands of monthly weather records were broken across the nation, including more than 69 in Pennsylvania.
According to data, produced by the National Climatic Data Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there were 3,527 monthly weather records broken for heat, rain and snow last year, more than the 3,251 records broken in 2011. And 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded in the U.S., and the year included the hottest March and July on record.
An annually updated, interactive extreme weather mapping tool and year-end review is available at www.nrdc.org/extremeweather.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.