Op-Ed: Our Health, Native Plants, Wildlife Compromised By Climate Change

Reprinted from www.paenvironmentdigest.com.

By Ed Perry, PA NWF Global Warming Outreach Coordinator

Slowly but surely, Lyme disease has reached near epidemic proportions in Pennsylvania. Twenty years ago, most of us never heard of Lyme disease. Now, most of us know someone who has had it and many of us have had it as well. Ticks not only are more abundant in Pennsylvania, but they also have migrated into Canada.

It’s no coincidence that warmer winters have facilitated the spread of ticks to the North.

Another noxious insect pest, the wooly adelgid, is decimating our state tree, the hemlock. This species originated in southern Virginia, but has steadily moved north as winters have warmed. As of 2007, the adelgid has impacted over 50 percent of the geographic range of the hemlock.

Hemlocks are what scientists call a “keystone species.” That is, one which many other species depend on for food, cover and nesting habitat. Brook trout, our state fish, is so closely allied with hemlocks that at one time they were called hemlock trout.

Scientists predict that global warming will enable the adelgid to eventually eliminate our state tree from the eastern United States, thereby speeding the demise of our state fish.

Global warming isn’t just blindsiding native species with habitat changes — it’s giving a leg up to many harmful and invasive species. In essence, climate change puts a thumb on the competitive scale, helping not the species that are most beneficial or most economically valuable, but the ones that can take the heat.

Ordinarily, one would think global warming would have only minor effects on mobile species. However, a recent report by the National Audubon Society found that, of the 588 North American bird species, “more than half are likely to be in trouble. Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate-endangered.”

So, if mobile species like birds are unable to cope with the rapid increased temperature change, how do you suppose less mobile creatures will fare?

Conservation biologists believe we already are in the midst of the sixth great extinction event and are on the path to losing half of all species on Earth.

Climate scientists warn that unless we reduce carbon pollution, temperatures will rise by seven to 11 degrees within the lifetime of a child born today. By the year 2100, Pennsylvania will have the climate of Alabama, with roughly 60 to 80 days over 90 degrees (depending on location) and at least 24 days over 100 degrees. This is the legacy we will leave for our kids and grandkids.

We Americans want our government to take action to reduce the threat of climate change. A recent poll by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that over 60 percent of Pennsylvanians support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants, 82 percent believe Pennsylvania should work with the EPA to reduce carbon emissions, and 97 percent support increased energy efficiency as the way to meet future energy needs.

This public support for clean energy and the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming drives home why the president has developed a Clean Power Plan, the first real energy policy we have ever had.

His plan proposes the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants, but also mandates higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, more efficient appliances and increased energy-efficiency standards for new construction.

If we are going to combat climate change and reduce emissions of climate-disrupting carbon pollution, as scientists tell us we must to avoid increasingly costly and devastating impacts, curbing pollution from our power sector is key, and the president’s Clean Power Plan will help us get there.

The staunch denial of climate change by many lawmakers in Washington is dangerous and does not reflect the true thinking of people across the country who not only recognize the reality of climate change, but also support action to curb its impacts.

The stakes are too high to play politics with the health and safety of our communities. It’s time to end the obstruction and take action.

The least that we Pennsylvanians can do is contact our legislators in hopes of preserving some semblance of our beautiful state’s natural heritage.

Ed Perry is the PA National Wildlife Federation Global Warming Outreach Coordinator and can be contacted by sending email to: [email protected].

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