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Wendy Gordon Headshot

Climate Change Hits Home

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Do you live in a climate-ready city? How prepared is your state for the challenges to health and the environment being caused by climate change-from the dangers of extreme heat and increased flooding to the spread of ragweed whose pollen causes allergies or mosquitoes that can spread disease?

NRDC just unveiled an incredible web interactive that lets you see how your state might be impacted by climate change. On the site, nrdc.org, you can see local data and maps detailing extreme weather patterns throughout the country, see local climate change vulnerabilities and learn about health problems in your own community that are connected to climate change.

In my state of New York, I was disheartened to see that:

  • The state has been declared a disaster area 15 times since 2000, due to
    damage from severe storms and flooding.
  • Heat-related mortality in the metropolitan New York region is projected to increase 70 percent by mid-century as temperatures soar.
  • 518 cases of West Nile virus were reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 1999-2010.

It was extremely hot and dry for much of July in New York State, but nothing like what much of the Midwest and south was experiencing. "This has been one of the hottest and driest summers I can remember in my lifetime" Scott Eckert, a horticulturalist and Harvey County Extension agent, wrote in the Kansan.com.

I was sure my garden vegetables and the trees near the house were feeling the heat as well, but it all became clearer when reading Eckert's list of "things to remember about plants and heat":

  • Tomatoes like 85 degrees much better than 105 degrees.
  • Plants do not grow as much in extreme heat.
  • Less pollination and fruit drop can occur in extreme heat.
  • Evergreen trees can scorch as well as deciduous trees.
  • Containerized plants dry out much faster in high heat.

And here is one I learned this weekend-extreme heat makes lettuce taste bitter.

I rely on my garden for much of my salad greens and a lot of my vegetables every summer. So to see it in distress made me pause. What sort of crop loss will America's real farmers experience in the face of hotter summers, extended droughts, more intense storms, and new pests?

What of our cities and towns? Global warming renders drinking water supplies more vulnerable. Consider Florida: According to NRDC's web site, about 96 percent of the state's counties now face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of climate change.

Similarly in Arizona, where Lake Powell is only half full and the number of hours per summer day that the temperatures exceeds 100 degrees has doubled in the last 50 years, older Americans are particularly vulnerable. Indeed, heat-related deaths in Arizona are the highest of any state-at three to seven times the national average.

You might be wondering if there are any parts of the country that are more resilient/less vulnerable to climate change than others. According to Jeff Opperman, who wrote "Which cities can best adapt to climate change?", the answer is "yes": the top five U.S. cities that are most resilient/least vulnerable to climate change are Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis. As for the bottom five (the least resilient/most vulnerable), his ranking scheme turned up Phoenix, Houston, Sacramento, Las Vegas, and Miami.

Why do Rust Belt cities do so well in his rankings? Because Opperman figures, they have a sustainable water supply (in four of the cities, the Great Lakes); their heat stress rankings are relatively low; and they are less vulnerable to natural disasters that will be exacerbated by climate change, such as floods, landslides, and wildfires. One worrisome observation Opperman makes is that "the most climate-vulnerable cities include some of the fastest growing regions of the country."

In the face of all of this bad news, let me leave you with some good news. In late July, the Obama Administration announced "the single largest step we can take to stop our costly addiction to oil": By 2025, all new cars and light trucks will be required to get 54.5 miles per gallon. This means you'll be able to go about twice as far, on average, on a gallon of gas, compared with today's vehicles.

The difference will save Americans $80 billion a year at the pump, reduce our oil use by 3.1 million barrels per day by 2030, cut automobile carbon emissions in half, and create up to 150,000 American jobs, as Detroit shows the world how to build the next generation of energy efficient cars. In fact, whether you are talking about cars, or central air conditioners and furnaces, or lightbulbs, new energy efficiency standards means new manufacturing jobs. Case in point: the Cree high-efficiency lighting manufacturing plant in Durham North, Carolina.

We're all going to have to adapt to a changing climate, but we should also do what we can to mitigate the impact. Making sure our homes are outfitted with the most efficient appliances is one fundamental way we can all be better stewards.

Check out Smarter Living's Top Ten lists for the most efficient appliances on the market today.

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