Marylanders recognize climate change [Commentary]

Now that we understand the problem, it's time to urge our representatives to act

September 25, 2014|By Donald Boesch and Edward Maibach

George Mason University research, released jointly with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, shows that roughly three quarters of Marylanders understand that climate change is a threat to our health, homes, businesses and natural resources, and more than half of them support state initiatives to address the problem.

Now, with elections less than two months away, it's time to ensure we continue to move forward.

Maryland is highly vulnerable, with more than 3,000 miles of coastline. Our shorelines are retreating as sea levels rise, and science indicates that, unless we reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially in the coming decades, sea levels will continue to rise for centuries to come. In the last few years, we've witnessed increased flooding, violent storms such as Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Lee, the derecho and heavy snowfalls.

As climate change advances, we can likely expect higher temperatures that will increase heat-related illness and death; more air pollution and more asthma-related hospital visits; extreme weather events that will disrupt our energy systems; and changes to the Chesapeake Bay that will compound our challenges in cleaning it up and ensuring the continued health of our commercial seafood industry.

But the future doesn't have to be bleak. Forty years ago, scientists warned that the chemicals we were releasing into the atmosphere from spray cans, refrigerants and other sources were depleting the ozone layer and creating a "hole" in this shield that protects us from the sun's harmful UV rays. With the public's support, policy makers across the globe phased out production of the harmful chemicals, and we now know their actions made a difference because the hole is shrinking. The same can happen with climate change.

We are fortunate in Maryland that seven years ago, Gov. Martin O'Malley took action by creating the Maryland Climate Change Commission, charging it with developing an action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to explore ways to adapt to the changes ahead.

The work of the commission led to the passage of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act in 2009 and the release of Maryland's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan in 2013. The act required the development of a plan to reduce Maryland's greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 while increasing jobs and economic development.

Maryland has made important progress, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent through such steps as regulating auto emissions and carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, setting energy efficiency standards and facilitating offshore wind and other renewal energy sources.

Maryland's plan also is about better personal choices that we all can make, things like purchasing EnergyStar appliances, riding public transit, carpooling, biking to work or telecommuting.

There are states across the country also working to increase resilience, strengthen infrastructure, invest in renewable energies and reduce fossil fuel dependency. And President Barack Obama announced a national plan to limit the impacts of climate change last year.

All of these plans and actions are moving the country in the right direction, but there is more we can — and must — do. We need to protect our forward-thinking policies already in place and revisit those that can be strengthened. The George Mason University research found that 73 percent of Marylanders support requiring the state's electricity suppliers to provide 20 percent of their total electricity from renewable energy by 2022, and more than half of Marylanders support nearly all of our state's current policies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The next two years will be game-changing for climate change policies in Maryland and around the world. In 2015, the Maryland Department of the Environment will issue a progress report on our state's actions to limit the impacts of climate change. And in 2016, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act will go before the Maryland General Assembly for renewal. That is why the Climate Communication Consortium of Maryland, a group of more than 40 Maryland organizations concerned about climate change, is expanding its efforts to ensure Marylanders know the impacts to their communities from climate change.

We believe now is the time for those Marylanders who want action to make their voices heard by calling, visiting or writing their state legislators and Congressional representatives, urging them to take actions to protect our climate and us. Most importantly, in November, we urge Marylanders to vote for candidates who recognize that we must act now. Future generations are counting on us.

Donald Boesch is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; his email is boesch@umces.edu. Edward Maibach is director for Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University; his email is emaibach@gmu.edu.


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