Opinion: Climate change effects are observable in Centre County. What State College is doing about it

On Monday, State College Borough Council will vote on a resolution pledging the Borough to developing a strategy to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2050. If and when the resolution passes, the Borough will join over 120 municipalities of all political persuasions and ranging in size from Greensburg, Kansas, to Los Angeles, California, in taking the Sierra Club’s Ready-for-100 pledge. The Borough will become the 17th municipality in the Commonwealth and first in central Pennsylvania to take this pledge.

The pledge facilitates municipal exchanges of ideas on how to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement for addressing global climate disruption also called “climate change.” In 2017, Ferguson Township passed a similar resolution. The Borough, Ferguson Township and Penn State have joined the Paris agreement. Resolutions such as these recognize the importance of local government in mitigating climate disruption.

Although its effects are far worse in other parts of the world, climate disruption is observable in Centre County. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, historically, State College has averaged 10 days per year with temperatures of 90 degrees or above. In a high GHG emissions future, that could jump to 40 days by mid-century. In a low emissions future that statistic is closer to 20 days per year. That could make allergies, asthma and other respiratory diseases worse. Possible environmental changes in the area include: decreasing yields of Concord grapes, sweet corn and some apple varieties; hardwood tree species such as black cherry and sugar maple becoming less common or even disappearing from Pennsylvania.

Mitigating climate disruption requires massive effort at all governmental levels to reduce GHG emissions and develop energy from environmentally sensitive technologies. Reversing President Donald Trump administration’s willful blindness on climate disruption is necessary, but nothing less than a large-scale national program on climate change will be sufficient. Governor Tom Wolf’s executive order 2019-1 is a step in the right direction, but falls short of the Paris goals. Both state and federal programs will require strong efforts by local governments to succeed.

The Borough’s resolution is consistent with its past actions on sustainability including Borough Resolution 944 signed by Mayor Bill Welch in 2007 and Mayor Elizabeth Goreham’s signing of the Mayors’ Climate Letter in 2017.

The Borough efforts since 2007 have produced results. The State College Municipal Building is powered solely by renewable energy. The Borough just released a sustainability plan that produces a 10% reduction from 2007 by 2022. Discussions have begun with local landlords about methods for bringing about energy conservation in rental housing. However, more local climate plans are necessary to bring about more climate mitigation.

Here is partial list of local efforts that are underway: Penn State is considering a power purchase agreement (PPA) for solar energy that will make a large percentage of their power from renewable sources; and the Centre Region Council of Governments has begun discussing a PPA that could include some or all Centre Region municipalities, the State College Area School District, and several other municipal authorities; Mount Nittany Medical Center is now powered by a solar array. Due to a 90% drop in the price of solar panels over the last decade, we are also seeing more private and institutional use of renewable energy throughout Centre County.

Global climate disruption is a serious issue that affects all of our society. State College’s June 3 resolution recognizes that many important climate solutions begin with local government.

Jesse Barlow is a State College Borough Council member.