On Friday morning, more than a thousand teenagers in Philadelphia joined youth in cities all over the country and the world to protest the government’s inaction in the face of the existential threat of climate change. The Global Climate Strike was started by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Earlier this week, Thunberg testified in Congress. Instead of submitting a written testimony for the record, she submitted the U.N. report on climate change that predicts that the window to act before damage is irreversible will close in 2030. Her request to lawmakers: “I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.”
Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are not listening to the scientists. While other states like Washington, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland have put forward bold policies to cut down on emissions, Pennsylvania’s divided government has lagged behind. That is particularly concerning because Pennsylvania ranks fifth in state energy-related CO2 emissions in part due to the natural gas fracking industry — a practice that some Democratic presidential candidates propose to ban.
According to a recent USA Today report, nearly 200 new natural gas power plants are going to open nationwide over the next decade or so, 24 of them in Pennsylvania.
In the short term, new plants bring jobs and tax revenue. But while gas production is cleaner than coal, it is by no means a clean source of energy. We need to be clear-eyed about the environmental impact and the costs of being a leading energy state. In fact, many of the costs of climate change are already here.
The Global Climate Strike comes on the heels of a very hot summer. July was the hottest month ever recorded globally and Philadelphia felt the heat — for the entire month the temperature did not drop below 81 degrees. This extreme prolonged heat has a tangible impact on the health of people who don’t have access to air-conditioning, especially elderly who are more prone to dehydration.
The heat is not the only problem that climate change is causing today.
The Philadelphia International Airport is looking to expand. That’s challenging, considering that it is built on the banks of the Delaware River. The planned development of a 150-acre cargo zone would bring more economic activity to Philadelphia but requires that the land first be elevated to ensure it remains usable during storms and as sea levels rise.
Water absorption capacity is critical. A sudden and intense storm over Labor Day Weekend carried trash and raw sewage into Philadelphia’s clean water — a growing problem for a city with an antiquated sewer system after decades of wetter and wetter years.
A hotter and wetter climate comes with a staggering price tag: about $300 billion a year by 2100. It is foolish to believe that we are not already paying a chunk of that.
The impacts of climate change are here, they are now, they are deadly, and they are costly. It’s time for local and state lawmakers to realize that their decisions have a direct impact on their constituents today — but also on Earth itself and our collective future.