The United Nations' recent report on climate change is about as loud of an alarm bell that can be sounded about the dire consequences of rising global temperatures. With its extremely short window of time for addressing the problem, the report makes clear that climate change is happening at breakneck speed.
This should not come as a surprise to those of us living in the Mid-Atlantic region, where we have been plagued by extreme rain and rising temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, so far this year almost half of Pennsylvania's counties have received precipitation totals more than 50 percent above average. Although it is difficult to attribute specific weather events to climate change, the high levels of precipitation we have seen are in line with predictions about how climate change is expected to impact our area.
Between 1958 and 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency documented a 70 percent increase in heavy precipitation events in the Northeast and has forecast that the frequency of these events is likely to further increase.
As a 27-year-old farm manager of a 13-acre organic farm in Horsham, I have experienced firsthand the challenges brought by this extreme weather. For vegetable farmers in the Northeast, increasingly intense rain in recent years has led to field flooding, crop loss, high weed pressure, and disease spread, problems that have been especially acute for organic growers not using synthetic fungicides and herbicides.
It is undeniable that organic farms are part of the solution to climate change; the healthy soils created by sustainable agriculture can actually serve as a carbon sink, and by default, local organic produce has a much lower carbon footprint than food shipped across the country from California.
However, many of the same farms that have the potential to work against climate change are also greatly affected by the consequences of extreme weather. For example, in the fall, organic farmers usually plant their fields with cover crops made up of dense stands of grasses and legumes that replenish soil nutrition and pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, this year intense rain events have made it difficult for many of us in the Mid-Atlantic region to turn over our fields and plant beneficial cover crops in time for winter. As we have seen many times this season, the effects of even one rainstorm can be felt months later, resulting in yield losses, late planting, and decreased productivity.
It is now more important than ever that we are aware of these and the many other effects climate change is having in our region, considering that the federal government is unwilling to recognize how critical the situation has become.
Recently, the Trump administration used predictions from a recent environmental impact statement projecting a 7-degree global warming by 2100 as justification for freezing federal fuel-efficiency standards. This is another blow in a long line of moves the administration has made to back down from climate action in the past few months, including weakening the rules for methane emissions and CO2 pollution from coal-powered plants.
It is imperative to prioritize climate-change action on both the personal and state level. Although it may feel that as individuals, we have little hope of making an impact, there are still actions that can move us in a positive direction. One of these, of course, is to support local organic farms. We also must ensure that Pennsylvania continues to be a leader in climate-change progress by choosing candidates in November that are committed to tackling this issue on both a state and federal level.
Despite the Trump administration's blatant refusal to create meaningful climate policy, Pennsylvanians and their representatives in government still have the power to make decisions that can prevent us from reaching the tipping point in 2030. According to the U.N., we have just 12 years until the world is drastically changed. This information does not call for paralysis but immediate and continuous action from all of us.
Kirstie Jones is a farmer in suburban Pennsylvania.