The news is filled with stories about climate change — rising temperatures, extreme weather events, decreased crop yields — and they all have one thing in common. Dealing with these problems is going to cost everyone a lot of money. The insurance industry is already adjusting premiums to account for the expense of living on a warmer planet and, in anticipation of rising sea levels, the price of homes along the shore are lagging behind those built inland.
Still, the effects of climate change can seem distant when viewed from the Lehigh Valley. As a landlocked county, Northampton will experience fewer ramifications from a changing climate than will a coastal community, but our economy will be impacted. In fact, we’re already feeling the effects. Last year’s weather reduced crop yields for our farmers and the increasing temperatures make for unpleasant working conditions in the landscaping and construction businesses. Eighteen of the 19 warmest years have all occurred since 2001 and there’s no indication that the thermostat will be turning down any time soon.
Global problems require global solutions, but the world has yet to unite on this issue. Knowing that inaction carries costs, some local businesses are taking steps to reduce their carbon emissions. Freshpet, which has operations in Hanover Township, sources its ingredients within 200 miles of its wind-powered kitchen and has planted 50,000 trees. Martin Guitar, located in Upper Nazareth, chooses woods that are sustainably grown and has erected a chiller plant to reduce its power consumption. Crayola has an active plan to reduce its carbon and water usage to achieve zero landfill.
Like any other crisis, climate change offers both challenges and opportunities to the corporate world. Taking a position for environmental advocacy can be good for business. However, for governments it’s complicated. All expenditures have to be justified to an often skeptical public.
Charging stations for electric vehicles are an easy sell when they’re paid for with a state grant. We’ll install three of those at county buildings this summer. Retrofitting an old property can be prohibitively expensive, but a case can be made for putting solar panels on the roof of our new forensic center.
On May 15, the county held its first ever climate summit. Over 130 people attended the event, held at Lehigh University, to learn what effects climate change will have on our area and what steps we can take to mitigate the damage.
We can’t do much about decisions made in the past, but we can get creative about the choices we make in the present. For instance, forming an alliance with a private company to obtain funding for projects that are beneficial to the public. The county matched a $1.4 million alternative clean energy grant for the construction of a 520-kilowatt, zero-emissions hydro facility in Hugh Moore Park with New England Hydropower LLC. Our extensive dam and canal system presents a great opportunity to produce renewable power to our residents and this project will have economic opportunities for local construction firms.
In the interest of saving trees, as well as the county’s very valuable storage space, we are moving to a paperless system. Our Department of Corrections went paperless in May with others soon to follow. It is my intention to have all county departments functioning on a paperless system by 2025.
Our Parks and Recreation Department is changing how it manages county-owned land by mowing less to create naturalized areas for wildlife. This will also improve air quality and help absorb rain. The Conservation District is educating municipalities on installing riparian buffers along streams to mitigate the damage from floods (As an added bonus for our sportsmen and -women, the shade cast by the plantings increases the habitats for fish).
Out of all the natural hazards, flooding is the greatest threat to Pennsylvania, causing an estimated $91.6 million per year in losses from 1996 to 2014. The county is working to educate municipalities on how to handle their stormwater runoff.
Northampton County cannot solve the problem of climate change on our own and neither can our local environmentally conscious businesses, but that does not absolve us from doing what we can with what we have.
Eventually the world will catch up with us.
Lamont McClure is the county executive of Northampton County.