October 2, 2008

Whither Pennsylvania?
Right on cue, the Union of Concerned Scientists backs me up. Just yesterday, they released a report on the effects of climate change on Pennsylvania. And, my fellow Pennsylvanians, the news is not good. End of the century highlights if no emissions cuts are made: every summer day above 90, no snow in winters, no colorful fall foliage, massive disruption to agriculture. But even with cuts, things are going to get steamy. Here's a summary of the findings:

Climate: By mid-century, most of south central Pennsylvania is expected to experience between 40 to 70 summer days with temperatures higher than 90 degrees if emissions continue unabated. By late this century, the mercury could top 90 degrees nearly every summer day. Summer would feel more like those today in southern Georgia. Under a lower-emissions scenario, warming would be curtailed, and summers would be more like those today in Virginia.

Health: Pennsylvania could experience a dramatic increase in the number of dangerous heat days under a business-as-usual, higher-emissions scenario. By late century, for example, Harrisburg is projected to face 26 days with temperatures higher than 100 degrees. Under the lower-emissions path, Harrisburg would experience approximately seven days per year of such temperatures.

Agriculture: Scientists expect the yield and quality of key crops, including sweet corn, Concord grapes and apples, to decline if emissions continue to grow. Cutting emissions would give farmers more time adapt, including switching to different varieties and other crops. Cutting emissions also would help the dairy industry. Under the higher-emissions scenario, milk production is projected to decline 15 to 20 percent due to heat stress on cows. Under the lower-emissions scenario, production would drop 10 percent at most.

Forests: If emissions are not significantly curbed, scientists expect the state to become unsuitable for the economically valuable black cherry tree by late century, and for the maple, beech and birch forests that produce the state's brilliant fall foliage.

Fish: As water temperatures warm, some streams and rivers may become inhospitable for two of the state's premier sport fish: trout and smallmouth bass.

Snow: Because of global warming emissions already in the atmosphere, the state's traditional white winters are expected to all but disappear by mid-century. Sometime in the next several decades, ski resorts in eastern Pennsylvania will no longer be able to count on being open 100 days per year, including the week between Christmas and New Year's day, to ensure solvency.
Pennsylvania has an extra challenge in terms of cutting emissions since we live on top of some of the most productive coal fields in the country (fun real estate fact - Pennsylvania homeowners by law do not own mineral rights to their properties, which can lead problems like this). It's hard to wean yourself off coal when they're the rocks under your feet.

Ultimately, this report is all about managing the warming and preparing for the worst case scenario while hoping for the best case. On the plus side, given how hard it is to communicate the effects of climate change on our daily lives, this report provides a good way to avoid the "Brooklyn is NOT expanding" syndrome. Apparently, it is.

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