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It’s not your imagination: It is hotter. In this first month of summer, high temperature records have been set across much of the United States and globally. Here in West Goshen Township (WGT), temperatures between May 1 and July 7, 2021 have exceeded historical averages, and they are projected to be above average for the rest of this summer too.
Based on historical records the heat waves of 2021 are only expected once every several thousand years, but human-caused climate change is making extremes like this more common. Locally, Pennsylvania had on average just one day above 95°F per year. Based on current conditions and climate change models, we expect to have 12 such days by 2050.
Of the myriad ways human behavior impacts climate, the most basic is straightforward: when we burn fossil fuels, such as natural gas, oil, and coal, carbon-dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere. Because CO2 traps heat much like a blanket, the more CO2 we release, the warmer the planet becomes. The extra heat causes a cascade of effects which vary across the globe. In the western United States, the effects are severe drought and increased wildfires. Here in the humid east, effects are the opposite: more intense storms and more flooding. If you have lived in WGT for a while and think there has been an increase in severe rain events, you are not mistaken; this part of the nation has seen a 70% increase in the amount of rain falling in very heavy storms.
Climate change not only affects the weather, it also has a direct bearing on health, safety, and quality of life. Consequences to humans can range from minor inconvenience to serious, and sometimes fatal outcomes. Many cities across the United States, including Philadelphia, have seen large increases in death rates during heat waves. Small children, the elderly, people with chronic diseases, low-income populations, and outdoor workers are all at higher risk for heat-related illnesses. Extreme heat events can trigger a variety of conditions such as dehydration, heat stroke and respiratory problems. In addition to stressing the body’s ability to keep cool, higher temperatures also contribute to the build-up of air pollutants such as ozone.
What we can do about it
The Sustainability Advisory Committee is focused on safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the residents of WGT. Although climate change is a global phenomenon, there are things we can do locally to minimize its influence. To help deal with increased temperatures, we are promoting planting more trees. Simply increasing the number of trees in both residential and commercial centers can help to reduce local temperatures as much as 9 °F. Not only would such a change make heat waves less dangerous, it would also reduce the energy required for air conditioning.
The committee is also evaluating how to change the Township vehicle fleet from gas/diesel to electric, a win-win because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and saves taxpayers money over the life of the vehicle. Looking ahead, we are promoting steps to reduce the amount of CO2 introduced into the environment. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue working to improve the quality of life in WGT today and in the future.
This article was authored by Melanie Vile, Ph.D., who holds a B.S. in Comprehensive Science, an M.S. in Biology, and a doctorate in Ecosystem Ecology. She chairs the Sustainability Advisory Committee and is an assistant professor in West Chester University’s Environmental Health Program.