Protecting Our Environment and Our Economy

Last Sunday was Earth Day, a day when the world acknowledges the importance of protecting our planet. Unfortunately, even on Earth Day we don't do nearly enough to focus on climate change. Climate change will be one of the most pressing issues we face as a global community in the coming years. But, while climate change is an international threat, it can also have severe consequences for us right here in the district. For this week’s Sunday Issue, I wanted to continue the momentum from last week and share some of my environmental priorities.

Paris Accord

Scientists agree that the planet is warming, and they agree that this warming is likely a result of human activity. Our scientists tell us that if we want to protect life as we know it we must take action. One of the main ways the international community attempted to do this was through the 2015 Paris Accord. Though imperfect, it was a step towards international accountability, and aimed for each country to cut carbon emissions by 2025. Last October, President Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement, saying it was “unfair” to American companies. This should devastate all of us — the United States is one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions, and to shirk this responsibility indicates a total lack of leadership and basic decency towards our fellow nations on an important international issue.

Last week, Michael Bloomberg, former New York City Mayor, made headlines for offering to donate $4.5 million to the UN climate change Secretariat, meeting the United States’ obligation this year. Bloomberg is working with California Governor Jerry Brown as co-chairs of America’s Pledge, a group of states, cities, and companies that have pledged to uphold the Paris Agreement even without the federal government. Together, these states, cities, and companies make up more than half the American economy. The group has already made significant strides with mandatory renewable portfolio standards, city-wide pledges for electric vehicles, and efficient building and industrial energy programs.

This is the kind of leadership we need: leadership at the local, state, and industry level that will uphold America’s promise when the White House will not. We can still make meaningful change to reduce emissions, bolster the clean energy sector, and build a sustainable economy.

Solar Power and Clean Energy Jobs

A UN report released earlier this month showed solar power attracted more investment than any other technology this past year. This indicates that the future of energy use is in renewables — and that’s where the economic gains will be as well. Currently, China is leading the world in solar investment. But the US can become a global clean energy leader if we invest in this innovative sector now. Clean energy jobs are some of the fastest growing in the country. Building up America's clean energy sector will be good for the planet, but also hugely beneficial to our economy.

However, President Trump instituted tariffs on solar panels in January. Though aimed to protect workers, industry experts project that these tariffs will dampen demand for solar panel installation, as prices rise initially, and could result in job losses for 23,000 people. This tariff plan wasn't well thought through and will end up hurting American industries. We need to be building up the clean energy sector, not tearing it down.

The good news is that Ohio has made progress in solar power, as Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland have all made strides in solar energy consumption, showing once again how local communities can lead our nation in clean energy. There are a number of steps local government officials can take to continue to encourage solar development, including simplifying permitting and zoning practices and financing programs that encourage businesses to adopt solar energy. Through this kind of local leadership and ingenuity, we can continue to be strong advocates for clean energy policies even without leadership from Washington.

Effects of Climate Change on Crops

Climate change also poses severe threats to American agriculture, especially right here in Ohio. The EPA says that climate change will cause summers to become dangerously hot, reducing corn yields, since corn stops growing once the temperature rises above 86 degrees.

These warmer temperatures threaten livestock through heat stress and contribute to higher pest rates. Changing rain patterns will also hurt Ohio’s farmers, as experts point to devastating floods in the winter months and more frequent short-term droughts in the hot summer months. Early spring floods can also wash away fertilizer and newly-planted seeds.

These challenges have already started to affect Ohio farmers, and will continue to affect them in the future. Thus, it is critical to build partnerships between climate scientists and farmers, so that farmers have all the tools necessary to handle the coming challenges.

Lake Erie

In our very own Lake Erie, climate change poses a threat to water quality. Recently, we have seen an increase in algal blooms. Caused by warming water temperatures and pollutant runoff from increasingly large storms, these blooms create massive dead zones on Lake Erie, deeply disrupting fishing industries and tourism. In 2014, algal blooms poisoned drinking water for thousands of Toledoans. Without action on climate change, these issues will only continue to harm our beloved Great Lakes and our drinking water supply.

Janet GarrettComment