On Earth Day, Environment Maryland released a new report about global warming’s impacts. After another year in which many parts of the country were hit by scorching heat, devastating wildfires, crippling drought, severe storms and record flooding, a new Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center report finds that weather-related disasters have affected Marylanders across the state and millions of Americans across the country, and documents how global warming could lead to certain extreme weather events becoming even more common or more severe in the future.
The report found that every Maryland county has been hit by at least one federally declared weather-related disaster since 2007. Last year’s Hurricane Sandy, which caused 72 deaths in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions and led to $65 billion in damage, was just one of the extreme weather events outlined in the report.
“Every Maryland county has endured extreme weather causing extremely big problems for our health, safety, environment and economy,” said Tommy Landers, director of Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center. “Given that global warming will likely fuel even more extreme weather, we need to cut dangerous carbon pollution now.”
The new report, entitled “In the Path of the Storm,” examined county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2007 through 2012 to determine how many Marylanders live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available on Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center’s website.
“As this report demonstrates, climate change is real. Scientists agree that it is happening now, is harmful and is caused by human activity. We can make a difference through our actions,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers.
“Maryland has already taken significant action to cut emissions from power plants through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, cut emissions from our cars through the Clean Cars Act of 2007, reduce energy consumption through EmPOWER Maryland and increase renewable energy generation through the Renewable Portfolio Standard and the Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013. Maryland's 2013 greenhouse gas reduction plan, which Governor O’Malley initiated to cut our greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020, while at the same time having a positive impact on job creation and economic growth, expands on these efforts to meet our goals and serves as a leading example for the federal government and other states to take similar actions,” added Sec. Summers.
The report also details the latest science on the projected influence of global warming on heavy rain and snow; heat, drought and wildfires; and hurricanes and coastal storms. Finally, the report explores how the damage from even non-extreme weather events could increase due to other impacts of global warming like sea level rise.
Key findings from the Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center report include:
- Since 2007, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected every Maryland county.
- Nationally, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing 243 million people since 2007—or nearly four out of five Americans.
- Other research shows that the U.S. has experienced an increase in heavy precipitation events, with the rainiest 1 percent of all storms delivering 20 percent more rain on average at the end of the 20th century than at the beginning. Extreme rainstorms and snowstorms are happening 55 percent more frequently in the Mid-Atlantic region than in 1948. The trend towards extreme precipitation is projected to continue in a warming world, even though higher temperatures and drier summers will likely also increase the risk of drought in between the rainy periods and for certain parts of the country.
- Records show that the U.S. has experienced an increase in the number of heat waves over the last half-century. Scientists project that the heat waves and unusually hot seasons will likely become more common in a warming world.
- Other research predicts that hurricanes are expected to become even more intense and bring greater amounts of rainfall in a warming world, even though the number of hurricanes may remain the same or decrease.
Landers noted that every weather event is now a product of a climate system where global warming “loads the dice” for extreme weather, though in different ways for different types of extreme weather. While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded that it is “virtually certain” that hot days will become hotter and “likely” that extreme precipitation events will continue to increase worldwide, there is less scientific consensus about the impact of global warming on events such as tornadoes.
“Extreme weather is happening, it is causing very serious problems, and global warming increases the likelihood that we’ll see even more extreme weather in the future,” said Landers. “Carbon pollution from our power plants, cars and trucks is fueling global warming, and so tackling global warming demands that we cut emissions of carbon pollution from those sources.”
Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center called on decision-makers at the local, state and federal level to cut carbon pollution by expanding efforts to clean up the largest sources of pollution, shifting to clean, renewable energy, using less energy overall, and avoiding new dirty energy projects that make the carbon pollution problem even worse.
“Between the millions of Americans who have spoken in support of strong action to address global warming, and the threat that extreme weather poses to our communities and future generations, we desperately need the president to follow his recent strong statements on global warming with equally strong action,” said Landers. “We urge President Obama to finish implementing strong limits on carbon pollution for power plants, and to reject the dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”
“Governor Martin O’Malley is showing great leadership when it comes to global warming. He’s helped make Maryland one of a handful of states in the nation with a statewide cap on carbon emissions. Offshore wind power, which he has championed for years, will be a critical piece of Maryland’s strategy for dealing with climate change. Now, as the state moves forward with a comprehensive plan to achieve the pollution cap, Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center and our allies look forward to working together with the administration to make that plan a success,” said Landers.
The report was released two months after Maryland officials joined officials from eight other states in announcing a new agreement to make deeper cuts in power plant carbon emissions that would lead to a 20 percent reduction over the next decade. The states must now revise their rules in order to carry out the agreement.
“In the wake of Winter Storm Nemo, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene, Maryland and our neighboring states must double-down on our commitment to lead the nation in reducing the pollution that’s warming the planet and changing our climate,” said Landers.