Erie region can respond to climate change: Amy Jo Zola – – April 22, 2015

Erie region can respond to climate change: Amy Jo Zola – – April 22, 2015

April 22, 2015

Among the actions identified by the Destination Erie process is climate change action planning. Just because we are not threatened by rising sea levels does not mean we are immune to climate-related changes. We are already seeing the changes predicted by experts: more extreme rainfall events; greater temperature extremes (summer heat waves and brutal cold winter temperatures); impacts on local agriculture; and wide variations in lake levels.

The scale of the climate challenge requires action at all levels of society. Despite years of gridlock, international climate negotiators hope to reach agreement in Paris late this year on a durable international response to climate change.

Although the U.S. Congress is unlikely to enact a national climate or comprehensive energy policy in the near future, the Obama administration and many state governments are taking regulatory action to address the causes and effects of climate change.

Most importantly, driven by concerned citizens, local communities around the country are developing plans and taking action to reduce carbon pollution and adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Thanks to Destination Erie, now called Emerge 2040, climate planning is now a clear element of preparing our region’s future.

While there are those who question the extent to which human activity contributes to climate change or what an appropriate macro-level policy might be, we need not decide these issues at the community level. There are many “no regrets” actions that we can take on the local level — regardless of the broader political issues — that can have tangible local benefits. For example, businesses and individuals alike can save money by enhancing energy efficiency. Likewise, taking action to minimize the impacts of flooding or summer heat waves will have tangible benefits for our local community. Moreover, let’s recall Winston Churchill’s admonition that “he who fails to plan is planning to fail.”

The good news is that many communities (including our neighbors in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo) have developed climate action plans with specific steps that have both environmental benefits as well as economic advantages.

We can learn from what others are doing and develop an action plan tailored for our region.

Moreover, the concept of climate planning itself is flexible. It need not be an entirely new planning process but could be accomplished by infusing climate-related elements into ongoing planning processes.

Environment Erie, Pennsylvania Sea Grant and others have come together to form the Community Resiliency Working Group. Over the past two years, we have convened events at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center to focus on different aspects of how we can build greater climate resiliency into our communities.

The 2013 and 2014 events focused on stormwater management and emergency preparedness respectively, while this fall we will consider how climate-related changes could impact our tourist industry (e.g., harmful algae blooms).

Building on this work, we plan to take a leadership role in helping the Erie region identify those strategies that reduce our carbon pollution, save businesses and taxpayers money, improve our ability to adapt to change and create economic opportunities in an emerging green energy economy.

Like a lot of things in life, the Emerge 2040 recommendations depend on what we as a community commit to. Erie does not always embrace change and new ideas as easily as we might. Emerge 2040 provides a blueprint for action that can transform our region, but only if we all choose to make things happen rather than wait on the sidelines, expecting someone else to lead the community forward.