By: Danielle Falzone – January 2013
In 2012 the impacts of global warming hit us and it hit us hard. Massachusetts began last year with some of the least snow on record; only 7.7 inches fell in January and February combined. It was also the 2nd warmest winter in 118 years, with an average temperature of 37.2˚F – 5.4 degrees higher than typical. Temperatures then spiked over the summer with the Commonwealth, experiencing the hottest season on record.
And the story was similar across the region. Last winter northeast ski resorts struggled as little snow meant a late start to the season and difficulty luring skiers to the slopes. Combined with extreme weather events including most recently Hurricane Sandy, we can be certain that these changes are not coincidental– they are consistent with global warming. And we will be sure to see more of them – despite our recent snowfall — if we do not step up our game and soon.
And this was not just a New England phenomenon. Global Warming’s impact was felt nationwide. 2012 was the hottest year on record across the U.S.. In the west wildfires devastated communities, sweeping through forests dry from the unusual summer drought. In Texas farmers watched helplessly as their fields dried up and cracked, unfit for agriculture after over a year of extreme drought.
Record temperatures and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events have become a trend. Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center’s report In the Path of the Storm: Global Warming, Extreme Weather, and the Impacts of Weather-Related Disasters in the United States documented more and more people each year being affected by weather-related disasters. According to our report, more than 15 million Americans live in counties that have averaged one or more weather-related disasters per year since the beginning of 2006.
So what does this mean as we ring in the New Year? Here in Massachusetts we have made substantial progress toward a safer, more secure and less polluted future. In 2013 we need to build on this progress.
We must institute tight, effective caps on greenhouse gases from the region’s power plants. Under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that Environment Massachusetts helped put in place back in 2007, Massachusetts and other states in the region must lower their greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2018. In addition the Obama administration must finalize Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants and move forward with standards to limit global warming pollution from existing power plants.
A second way we can to reduce the pollution that causes global warming is by increasing energy efficiency. Massachusetts has already been named the most energy efficient state two years in a row, but there is still plenty of room to improve in this area especially in our buildings. With 90% of our energy still coming from dirty and dangerous energy sources in the Commonwealth, decreasing energy use means less air pollution and less global warming pollution. Finally, we must invest in clean renewable energy like wind and solar making them easier to install and more cost-effective through policies like increasing net-metering and renewing the Production Tax Credit.
The basic building blocks to a low carbon future are already in place here in Massachusetts. But recent extreme weather episodes remind us that we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to build on our strong foundation to make even more progress in combating global warming in 2013. 2012 demonstrated that global warming is a force to be reckoned with. Let’s make 2013 the year we take a real bite out of the global warming problem.