A new National Wildlife Federation (NWF) report points to heat waves, wildfires, fish deaths, and drought as evidence of climate change in the United States and its devastating ripple effect seen this summer.
“Climate scientists have been telling us for almost 30 years that this wacky weather we’ve been experiencing the past few years is going to become the new norm,” said PA outreach coordinator for the NWF Ed Perry, who joined local outdoor and environmental groups along the bank of the Allegheny River Thursday to discus the findings of “Ruined Summer: How Climate Change Scorched the Nation in 2012.”
“No longer is global warming something that happens way up in the arctic, or to polar bears. Right now it’s happening all across our country, and it’s happening especially right here in Pennsylvania,” Perry said.
With a month still remaining in its ozone season, Allegheny County has had 20 days where ground level ozone has exceeded the national standard, which is 75 parts per billion, according to Rachel Filippini, executive director of Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP). Last year there were 12 days total, she said, and if the trend continues a cyclical effect could make achieving lower levels in the future more difficult.
Ozone formation starts with greenhouse gas emissions and is exacerbated by hot, sunny days with little wind. With climate change, Filippini said, not only will weather patterns be favorable for ozone formation, but “there’s also going to be increases in those precursors to ozone being emitted, from people using more air conditioning or forest fires.”
The NWF report also highlights on-the-ground ramifications for local agriculture. For instance, new climate maps are throwing growing seasons out of whack and introducing new agricultural challenges to an already difficult profession in Pennylsvania.
“My farmers are coming up with new questions about what’s happening in their fields and with their crops that they never had to ask before—whether it’s pests, or diseases, or really what’s happening with the season,” said Neil Stauffer, general manager of Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, a farmers’ coop in Southwestern PA.
In Penn State, Perry said he spoke to fruit farmers that lost 90 percent of their crops. “The winter was so warm that the buds came out, and then we had, as usual, these later frosts which kill the buds and ruin the apple crop,” he said.
Another concern is how a warmer climate might affect traditional summer activities, and how people engage with the outdoors. “Global climate change is absolutely affecting outdoor recreation,” said Jon Lucadamo, program manager of Venture Outdoors. A lot of this has to do with public perception, he said. “They hear CSO (combined sewer overflow), ozone action alert, stay inside… All of these things affect people’s emotions.”
For the first time this summer Venture Outdoors had to cancel summer events due to weather conditions related to heat, not rain. “We see 90-degree temperatures are going to be happening all week, and we have a 14-mile bike ride scheduled, so we would check in with those folks,” he said.
This however, is a very isolated event. It’s much more common that cancellations occur with youth groups, Lucadamo said. When leaders see an action alert or weather advisory, there’s a perceived opportunity for liability on their part, he said, and they take kids to a museum or to the mall.