Climate Change Preparedness in Baltimore
Photo: Flooding in Baltimore’s inner harbor after Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
The negative impact of climate change also known as global warming is becoming a growing health and environmental issue for many urban communities especially those living along coastal areas. Climate change refers to the rise in surface temperatures due to the increased use of greenhouse gases such as fossil fuels. There are 4 main types of fossil fuels: Carbon DIoxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and Halocarbons. CO2, one of the biggest culprits causing climate change, is released through combustion of automobiles , heating, cooling and many types of manufacturing. When these gases are released into the air they trap heat within the atmosphere causing negative effects on the ecosystems such as rising sea levels, severe weather events, heat waves and droughts.
How does this impact Baltimoreans? In urban communities Climate Change creates poor air quality and urban heat island hot spots. Coastal urban communities have additional threats from sea level rise that lead to flooding and problems with aging wastewater systems . All of this negatively affects human health and the local environment. Additionally the changing seasonal temperatures such as warmer and wetter fall and winter or longer drier summers impact wildlife life cycles and ecosystem balance. The Baltimore CIty Department of Planning: Disaster Preparedness and Planning Project (DP3) estimated in a 2013 report that average air temperatures are expected to rise 12 degrees in Baltimore by 2100. These heat waves cause poor quality conditions and are especially dangerous to children, the elderly and people with Asthma. Baltimore’s asthma rate is twice the national average (20%). Increased energy demands, high air condition use, and power outages are additional negative components of climate change in urban areas. The National Research Council 2011 sea level rise assessment projects as much as a 2 ft increase for the Chesapeake Bay area by 2050. This sea level rise combined with increased precipitation and storm surge will lead not only to increase flooding as Baltimore has seen in the aftermath of both Hurricane Isabel (2003) and Sandy (2012), but also to contamination of wastewater in waterways by stormwater overflows. Lastly, many species rely on seasonal temperatures changes to survive or not to survive. We may see the die off of certain native plant species such as Sugar Maples, where Maryland is the southern part of their range. Others may adapt overtime to changing local conditions. WIldlife that depend on these plants species for habitat as well as migratory species will also face challenges. Additionally, we may see an increase in unwanted insects such as mosquitos and ticks due to prolonged warm summer temperatures and decreases in insect predators.
Photo: Aftermath of Isabel in Fells Point, Baltimore
To help mitigate the impacts of climate change urban communities can use these tools listed below: Also check out this checklist for Maryland Climate Protection. Additionally, Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability in 2012 published a Climate Action Plan to develop greenhouse gas emission reduction goals as well as other mitigation and adaptation strategies. Read the full plan here.