In some quarters, the debate continues to rage. How much of climate change is caused by humankind? One study indicates that 97 percent of climate scientists who publish in peer-reviewed journals say global warming is man-made. Still, people continue to insist that the jury is out on the cause. That debate, however, shouldn’t frame the larger issue that pretty much everyone agrees on: Regardless of its source, climate change is occurring.
July was the hottest month on record in the United States. Since the 1970s, the average annual temperature has gone up about one-third of a degree per decade, and the average winter temperature rose by four degrees. In the Northeast, the combination of a projected increase in heavy precipitation and likely sea level rise may lead to more frequent, damaging floods, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The implications for governments of all sizes are far-reaching. That’s why it’s encouraging that Maryland, through the Department of Natural Resources, is trying to be proactive.
In fact, state officials began planning adjustments due to global warming in 2007, when the Maryland Climate Change Commission issued its first report.
Last month, the department was drafting proposed rules regarding the construction of state buildings and roads to go to Gov. Martin O’Malley for a possible executive order.
About 450 state-owned facilities and 400 miles of state highways are in areas that will be vulnerable to flooding from sea level rise or coastal storms in the next century, according to testimony DNR Secretary John R. Griffin gave last month to a congressional committee. The department is “shifting away” from conserving land that is less than 2 feet above sea level because of predictions that such land likely will be underwater in 50 years, Griffin said.
But the problems facing government, and all of us, extend well beyond land conservation. More heat waves and reduced air quality, as projected by the EPA for the Northeast, would mean more health threats for the very young, elderly and outdoor workers. More frequent and larger precipitation events likely would increase the risk of waterborne illnesses. Heavy rains could mean more future concerns over mosquito-carried West Nile virus. Also, more extreme storms can damage infrastructure, leading to greater costs for taxpayers.
Maryland farmers also might have to get used to growing different crops. Large portions of the region, according to EPA, might become unsuitable for crops such as apples, blueberries, grain and soybeans. Fisheries also could feel the impact. Lobster habitats have been shifting northward. What might the effects of global warming mean for the Chesapeake Bay’s crab population one day?
All of this points to the need to continue to be proactive. Debates on the origin of climate change and global warming shouldn’t affect the need to take wise measures to address the very real issue.