Noah Wilbur | Staff Columnist
In the past two decades, climate change has transformed into a global phenomenon sweeping across the U.S. as major cities and their citizens prepare for the adverse consequences connected to a warming climate.
Originally considered a sham, climate change has since developed into a highly controversial topic sparking heated debate among well-known scientists, global leaders and local communities around the world.
At the heart of climate change is global warming – the gradual increase in the average temperature of Earth’s climate. According to NASA, 19 of the 20 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2001.
There are additional indications of warming temperatures; such as shrinking glaciers and ice sheets, decreased snow cover across the Northern Hemisphere and rising sea levels. This evidence clearly suggests that climate change is no longer an illegitimate claim; rather, it is a reality with the potential to endanger humanity and jeopardize our achievement.
In the U.S., cities with growing populations face the most risk from this unprecedented surge of temperatures around the country. Increased vulnerability to flooding, enduring power outages, breakdowns of infrastructure and unexpected economic expenditures are the key challenges threatening the country’s municipalities.
Climate change also unfavorably harms the residents of cities by intensifying existing health conditions and introducing new health concerns that were otherwise unknown. Some potential dangers to individuals include an increased likelihood of cardiovascular failure and disease, diminished lung function due to poor air quality and severe allergies from higher pollen concentrations.
Here in Pittsburgh, the overwhelming ramifications of a warmer climate are beginning to manifest into existence around the area. In fact, a decade ago the average high temperature for the city in the month of September was nearly 70°F. Current data indicates that this average temperature has risen to approximately 80°F.
Additionally, Pittsburgh is experiencing more heavy storms and yearly rainfall than ever reported in its history. In 2018 alone, the region suffered historic amounts of rain which resulted in a record number of floods and landslides. According to a recent study from Climate Central, Pittsburgh has also experienced an increase of 30 or more days in the mosquito season directly elevating the danger of mosquito-borne illness.
With aging infrastructure and widening economic disparity, the Steel City and its surrounding areas are undeniably at risk of economic and public turmoil if global warming continues to progress at its current rate.
Although substantially exposed to the risks associated with climate change, individual cities are also the major contributors to rising temperatures. As these urban landscapes continue to expand, the communities consume a significant portion of the world’s energy output. With a bottomless appetite for energy, cities produce a considerable amount of global CO2 emissions.
A recent study completed by the U.N. revealed that cities around the world account for roughly 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. This is an astounding fact considering that these urban clusters represent less than 2% of Earth’s surface.
With the public growing ever more concerned over the severity of a warmer climate, elected officials are faced with the daunting task of determining how to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint.
In what may seem as a surprise, many activists and local leaders are pointing to urban development as an opportunity for great minds to collaborate and encourage bold ideas with the purpose of curbing greenhouse emissions.
Sitting at the core of American innovation and commerce, cities possess the needed resources to serve as a catalyst in developing a solution to minimize the impact of climate change. This solution will incorporate a complex arrangement between eco-friendly strategies that must be put into effect, and the enforcement of city-wide regulations which promote sustainable practices among businesses and citizens.
The addition of green spaces, city forests and reflective surfaces, renewable public transportation systems and energy efficient buildings are all approaches that can be utilized to limit carbon emissions.
Therefore, through focused planning, collaboration with other cities and the fostering of innovative strategies, greenhouse gas emissions can be significantly reduced.
Ultimately, I encourage city officials and community leaders around the U.S. to join together and address global warming by organizing an aggressive climate change agenda with the objective of transforming urban areas into centers of sustainability.
The implementation of green infrastructure and environmentally sound practices will improve quality of life among residents while also adding economic value to cities.