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If you don’t want a future of heat, flash floods and ticks, act now: Carol Nechemias

Posted 8/30/17

For many, climate change represents a distant threat, but the future is now. 

If you have a 10-year-old child or grandchild, that youngster will reach his or her mid-30s when, according to …

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If you don’t want a future of heat, flash floods and ticks, act now: Carol Nechemias

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For many, climate change represents a distant threat, but the future is now. 

If you have a 10-year-old child or grandchild, that youngster will reach his or her mid-30s when, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Pennsylvania’s average temperature will have risen by 2.5 degrees, the number of days of more than 90 degrees more than doubles, extreme weather events occur with greater frequency, and air quality deteriorates. 

Let’s talk local and relevant. 


Not your mother’s storms: Higher outdoor temperatures and warming oceans generate more intense events that dump greater volumes of precipitation. Think about the 4.71-inch record rainfall that recently fell at Harrisburg International Airport. Consider the historic 30-plus inches of snow that swamped us over Jan. 22-23, 2016. Remember Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 that unloaded 13 inches of rain on Middletown by mid-September, more than 10 times the norm for early September. The Swatara Creek smashed its old record of 16 feet to crest at 26.8 feet, and Dauphin County suffered more than $150 million in damage. For many of us, these storms led to flooded basements, or worse. Our storm water systems are not constructed to deal with extreme weather events that will occur with steadily increasing frequency. 


Your child or grandchild will face greater challenges. Higher temperatures bring out ticks earlier and in greater numbers. Pennsylvania already ranks first in the nation in Lyme disease. With “climate migration,” the extended range of disease-carrying mosquitoes including the West Nile virus moves north to our backyards. Poorer air quality and more smog exacerbate respiratory issues such as asthma as well as cardiac issues, especially threatening the well-being of the young and the elderly. Higher temperatures combined with increased precipitation add up to more pollen and mold, magnifying allergen problems. 


Pennsylvania has one of the highest rural populations in the United States. Dairying, our top agricultural industry, would suffer depressed milk production, and high-value fruit crops may not experience the necessary winter cold required for fruit production. Warmer weather means more pests and more invasive species. 


There will be greater discomfort as the numbers of 90-degree-plus days increases, with nights not cooling off. This situation creates a vicious circle where rising demand for air conditioning creates a greater call for the burning of fossil fuels to create electricity, feeding the cycle that led to global warming in the first place.

Recreation, an important aspect of our lifestyles, also will take a hit. With the National Weather Service issuing more heat advisories, warning that a combination of hot temperatures and high humidity poses a threat to human life through heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and other heat-related illnesses, there will be reduced opportunities for engaging in outdoor activities such as golf, softball, fishing and even walking. 

Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is the main pollutant causing global warming by acting like a blanket, trapping heat and keeping the earth warm. Human activities — cars, planes, power plants — that involve the burning of fossil fuels have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years. 

Among the 50 states, Pennsylvania ranks third in carbon dioxide emissions due to human activity. This is not acceptable. 

 We are blessed to live amidst Pennsylvania’s natural beauty, the Susquehanna River valley, lush rolling farmlands, heavily forested hills, and bountiful wildlife. We have a duty to preserve this heritage for our children and grandchildren. 

As individuals, we can combat global warming by taking small steps in our own lives. 

Power down your computer and other office equipment when you’re not using them, use LED light bulbs or other products that bear the EPA’s Energy Star Label, leave dishwashers open overnight for zero-energy drying, bike or walk short distances rather than driving, eat locally grown foods and avoiding processed items. 

For more suggestions, go to climatecare.org/50-ideas-for-shrinking-your-carbon-footprint and www.globalstewards.org/reduce-carbon-footprint.htm.    

But individual actions are not enough. We also can join with our fellow citizens to inform ourselves about threats to our environment and to demand sensible action from our government leaders. For a full report on the projected significance of climate change on Pennsylvania, see “Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update,” conducted by a team of scientists at Penn State University on behalf of our state’s Department of Environmental Protection. It’s at tinyurl.com/ofqyy6x.

Look for organizations that offer opportunities for involvement. Find one that’s a good fit for you. A partial list would include Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania (www.conservationpa.org), Trout Unlimited Pennsylvania (www.patrout.org), Citizens Climate Lobby Harrisburg Chapter (citizensclimatelobby.org/chapters/PA_Harrisburg), Penn Future (www.pennfuture.org), Sierra Club PA (www.pennfuture.org, and Hershey Indivisible Team (hersheyindivisibleteam.org).

Go for it!    

Dr. Carol Nechemias is associate professor of public policy and political science, emerita, at Penn State Harrisburg.