The conversation about climate change is all-pervasive but, for many, still something of an abstraction.
It’s easy to think that, hey, the worst of it will unfold long after I’m gone, or the worst of it will affect people in far-off locales like Bangladesh or the Maldives. My grandkids will sort it out.
Here in Pennsylvania, there are those who think we might get a little more rain, summers will be hotter and some additional insects will be invading the backyard barbecue, but life will churn relentlessly on.
Such complacency isn’t warranted. Climate change isn’t something that will upend someone else’s existence while we remain at a comfortable remove. Its impact will be widespread and deleterious to everyone on the planet, regardless of their address or station in life. Pennsylvania and its neighbors will not be spared.
This point was brought home at a climate change conference last weekend at West Virginia University’s College of Law. Susan Clayton, a psychology professor at The College of Wooster in Ohio, pointed out that climate change would impact West Virginia, noting that it is “still such a beautiful, lush area.” In fact, in 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency outlined how climate change would affect each of the 50 states, and it found, among other things, that transportation on the Kanawha and Ohio rivers could be disrupted due to droughts; that habitats for cold water fish, including brook trout, the official state fish of West Virginia, are likely to shrink; and tourism built around wintertime activities like snowmobiling and skiing will contract.
Pennsylvania will have its share of problems, too. Summers that are longer and hotter will decrease corn yields in the commonwealth, according to the EPA. Warmer weather will cause the deer population to go up, and cause cows to eat less and generate less milk. Along with less milk, there will be less beef coming from Pennsylvania, and milk and beef account for one-third of the state’s farm revenues.
Commercial navigation will suffer on Pennsylvania’s rivers in a warmer climate, communities along rivers will flood, and warmer temperatures can cause algal blooms in water, which lowers water quality and harms fish.
And, like West Virginia, industries built around having a decent amount of snow on the ground will take a beating. According to the Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update, carried out by Penn State University, “Pennsylvania’s downhill ski and snowboard resorts are not expected to remain economically viable past mid-century. Snow cover to support cross-country skiing and snowmobiling has been declining in Pennsylvania, and is expected to further decline by 20 to 60%, with greater percentage decreases in southeastern Pennsylvania, and smaller decreases in northern Pennsylvania.”
So, yes, we can shrug and let our forebears wonder why we did nothing when we had abundant evidence before us, or we can actually take some action in the here and now. Doing so would be one of the best gifts we could give to those who will follow us.