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Where Ohio Stands on Climate Change

Miranda Leppla, January 11, 2019

Images of shrinking icebergs and starving polar bears are often associated with the threats of climate change, but it’s important to know that Ohioans also experience climate change, just in a different way. For us, it all comes down to a kind of domino effect of impacts. Climate change in Ohio can mean more rain events in which massive amounts of water fall in short periods of time, leading to more flooding of city streets and farm fields, leading to more fertilizer in streams and rivers that are already averaging above-normal temperatures, which creates the perfect conditions for toxic algae that in turn hurts small businesses who rely on clean drinking water and can cause serious health issues.

While it may not be apparent on the surface, climate change is at the heart of all of our work here at the Ohio Environmental Council. We work every day to reduce the causes of climate change, such as pushing for greenhouse gas reductions through a transition away from coal-fired power, and advocating for strong limits on methane pollution coming from oil and gas operations. At the same time, we work to lessen the impacts already felt and experienced in our state, such as ensuring our forested public lands are healthy enough to absorb excessive carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and stunt the flow of agricultural runoff into an already warm Lake Erie.

For decades, scientists have warned us that climate change has altered the way our environment and ecosystems function, and that the continued burning of fossil fuels damages our planet and threatens our way of life. But this past year, scientists have sounded a more definitive alarm—our continued use of fossil fuels has created even more dire circumstances than they originally predicted. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the top scientific body studying climate change, released a Special Report in October 2018 indicating that nations must take “unprecedented” action to cut carbon emissions within the next decade.   

The report determined that the world must hold our warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius to prevent the most damaging impacts of climate change, and that the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions (more than 40 billion tons per year) must be on an extreme downward slope by 2030 to prevent those impacts from materializing. Yet, global emissions still rise.

Ohio and the United States continue to burn fossil fuels, knowing a dramatic shift to carbon-free energy sources is necessary for a sustainable future. In fact, 2018 was the first time in three years that the U.S.’s carbon emissions have increased, up by 3.4 percent from 2017.

The United States’ Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II, was released less than two months ago, and specifically details the impact of climate change on the Midwest and Ohio.  

A central finding of this report is that climate change puts the Midwest’s agricultural industry in jeopardy and threatens a major source of our food supply, unless we take action to protect it from the effects of climate change. The shift toward more precipitation and increased late season moisture exacerbates the effects of invasive species, pests, and plant disease, but we can only partially overcome these issues through technological advances, meaning our harvests will be less productive.

The impacts from increased temperatures and precipitation, as well as invasive species, affect ecosystem biodiversity throughout our natural areas, especially our forests. And climate change will impact human health directly and indirectly, worsening existing health conditions and introducing new threats as a result of increased frequency and intensity of poor air quality days, increased temperatures, and heavy rainfall.  

These studies are clear—we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly and efficiently to mitigate the worst impacts from climate change, and Ohio must lead on this effort. We are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions due to our heavy reliance on coal and natural gas to generate electricity, ranking sixth highest in the country for carbon dioxide emissions.   

Ohio has the opportunity to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by increasing the amount of renewable electricity generated in the state, and we need our legislature and state agencies to stand with us. Ohio has over 55,000 megawatts of potential for wind generation projects, but because of bad regulations we have seen almost no new wind development since 2014. According to a recent report, offshore wind development in the Great Lakes has the potential to provide 1.5 million megawatts of electricity, and Ohio has over 2000 megawatts of potential for solar, but only has a fraction of that installed, totalling 171 megawatts.

Shifting Ohio away from fossil fuels will not only help combat the worst effects of climate change, including the negative impact to human health, but it will also boost the economies of the communities choosing clean energy, bringing jobs to the areas and economic development. Ohio must recognize the opportunities to move our state forward toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.