More extreme weather due to climate change

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OP-ED, AUG. 26, 2014

More extremes due to climate change

By Jon Clark
Citizens Climate Lobby

While the West Coast deals with drought, wildfires and hot weather, states east of the Rockies were dealing with a deluge of rainfall earlier this month.

On Wednesday, Aug. 13, Islip, N.Y., got a serious taste of what climate change looks like when over 13 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period, shattering N.Y.’s previous record set in 2011 when Tropical Strom Irene dumped 11.6 inches of rain on Tarrytown, N.Y.

According to The Washington Post, “Incredibly, over 11 inches (11.19 ) of rain fell in three hours, between 5 and 8 a.m. About 10 inches (9.81 ) of rain fell in two hours, a phenomenal quantity of water in such a short time. No hurricane or tropical storm to affect New York State has produced such an output.”

That same day, a large area south of Baltimore received 8 inches of rain, delaying flights from BWI and immersing parked cars half way under water in the long-term parking lot. On Aug. 11, Detroit suffered the heaviest rains in almost a century, as flooding became so bad that a police scuba dive team checked more than 70 vehicles on Interstate 94 on Tuesday morning to look for drivers that may have been trapped in submerged vehicles.

According to the National Climate Assessment released this year (, “The Northeast has experienced a greater recent increase in extreme precipitation than any other region in the U.S.; between 1958 and 2010, the Northeast saw more than a 70 percent increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1 percent of all daily events). This increase, combined with coastal and riverine flooding due to sea level rise and storm surge, creates increased risks. For all of these reasons, public health, agriculture, transportation, communications, and energy systems in the Northeast all face climate-related challenges.”

Climate change is making flooding in our region more frequent and more intense.

Climate scientists explain it this way: In a world warmed by burning fossil fuels releasing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, there’s more evaporation, and a warmer atmosphere holds more water. When that water vapor condenses as rain or snow, there’s more of it.

Flooding is just one of the consequences of living in a warming world.

Sea level rise, extreme flooding and droughts, heat waves and wildfires are all putting an increased burden on our infrastructure and our economy. In June a group of highly respected economists and climate scientists from the Risky Business Project released a report titled “Risky Business, The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States” (

“The report’s conclusions demonstrated the significant harm that climate change is causing now and that will almost certainly be far more severe in the future — to the agricultural, energy and coastal-property sectors, as well as to public health and labor productivity more generally,” according to Robert Rubin, one of Risks committee members.

Who foots the bill from damages caused by these increasing extreme precipitation events? Ultimately, you and I do.

Who should be footing the bill when it comes due? The fossil fuels industry.

Each and every one of us is being forced to pay for the damages caused by burning fossil fuels, both in dollars and lost lives due to the harmful effects of carbon pollution. The true cost is not being paid at the pump so to speak, but instead in the form of higher taxes, healthcare costs and insurance premiums or flat out losses due to lack of coverage from extreme weather events.

What we need now is a transparent, steadily rising carbon tax placed on fossil fuels that would reduce consumption and shift investment to carbon-free sources of energy, thereby reducing the risk of damages from extreme weather events. A hundred percent of the revenue collected should be returned to every household equally so as not to swamp our economy.

A recent study by the economic modeling firm Regional Economic Modeling Inc. (REMI) showed such a carbon tax would boost our economy and result in a net job creation of 2.1 million jobs after 10 years, an increase in GDP by $70 billion to $85 billion from 2020 on, and reduce CO2 emissions 33 percent over 10 years.

While flooding from extreme precipitation affects millions of people across the country, billions of dollars in profits are flooding into the fossil fuels industry, draining our economy as taxpayers get soaked when they are forced to foot the bill for damages.

As Robert Rubin put it in a Washington Post op-ed recently: “We do not face a choice between protecting our environment or protecting our economy. We face a choice between protecting our economy by protecting our environment — or allowing environmental havoc to create economic havoc.”

— Jon Clark is the Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.