by Monica O’Connor August 9, 2017
There is an international and interdisciplinary consensus that climate change is impacting every facet of society. Politicians who are unsure about climate change, or who lack the political will to address its causes and effects, distract and detract from concrete steps we need to take to protect our economy, our security and our health.
At a town hall held by WISE this past May, Delegate Tony McConkey drew a collective gasp when he said of climate change, “I don’t think the science is definite yet … I’m not convinced.”
People in science, the military, the business sector and the general public disagree. According to a study cited on NASA’s website, more than 97 percent of publishing scientists agree that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” The U.S. military also is convinced that global warming is real. As reported by ProPublica in March, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stated, “I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that … we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources and readiness.” Closer to home, the U.S. Naval Academy also has climate change in the forefront as they urgently address the effects of sea rise that threatens to take away 75 percent off their land, according to a March 6 briefing this year.
Much of corporate America is likewise sure. Since November, more than 1,000 companies and investors, including 60 Fortune 500 companies, have signed the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement, which presses for the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. These businesses know that protecting the climate is good for the bottom line. Maryland, with its long coastline, risks severe economic consequences if climate change is not properly addressed. Rising sea levels will wreak havoc upon properties along the shore. As the saline water presses inland, it will contaminate ground water used for drinking and irrigation, and adversely affect the fishing, farming and tourism industries for which the Environmental Protection Agency estimates generate $33 billion in economic and recreational benefits each year.
Health care costs will compound the financial strain. Maryland is among the states with the highest number of air-pollution-related deaths each year. High temperatures and fossil fuel emission harm air quality, increasing incidents of asthma and upper respiratory diseases. According to a Maryland Department of Health and Hygiene survey, about 80 percent of Marylanders consider extreme heat and weather a health risk, and want the government to prioritize protecting our water and health from environmental threats.
Republicans and Democrats in Maryland have made some strides to protect our environment, economy and health. The 2016 legislature banned fracking and pressed for clean energy jobs. But when representatives remain “unsure” of climate change or uncommitted to dealing with it, dichotomies occur. Though Maryland bans fracking, it allows Dominion, a Virginia-based energy company, to export liquid natural gas from Cove Point Terminal to Asia. Maryland is building two offshore wind projects to meet our renewable energy goals, while also allowing the construction of a pipeline, which Maryland does not benefit from, to cross our state.
There is no good reason for these dichotomies to exist, just as there is no reason for our District 33 representatives to score as low as they did on the 2016 League of Conservation Voters scorecard (0 percent for Delegates Sid Saab, Michael Malone and McConkey, and 20 percent for Senator Reilly). And though I assume Delegates Saab and Malone are sure of climate change, their votes in support of fracking as well as their (and Senator Reilly’s) votes against the Clean Energy Jobs Act and the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act does not indicate they are in step with the wider public desire to protect our health and our environment, and to innovate our economy by investing in the energy of the future.
Overwhelmingly, Democrats, Republicans and Independents agree: Climate change is real. While how we deal with its effects may differ, our commitment to protecting our health, economy and environment should not. This fall, WISE intends to host an environmental summit bringing together Republican and Democratic legislators, non-government organizations and interested people from around the state to engage in initiatives to implement laws that protect our environment and grow our economy. Whether climate change exists is no longer an issue to discuss. The critical steps needed to protect the state of Maryland and its residents from its effects are where we all need to direct our efforts.
WISE Steering Committee Member