WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama outlined his vision for a comprehensive plan to combat carbon pollution and climate change earlier this week at Georgetown University and the White House released state-by-state reports or “fact sheets” on the impact of climate change the following day.
In his remarks President Obama focused on the threat of carbon pollution. Although the United States sets limits for arsenic, lead and mercury, it does not yet impose limits on the amount of carbon pollution that its power plants release.
Carbon pollution, the state reports noted, contribute to “a higher risk of asthma attacks and more frequent and severe storms, floods, heat waves, and wildfires, driving up food prices and threatening our communities.”
The Rhode Island report found that “In 2011, power plants and major industrial facilities in Rhode Island emitted more than 4 million metric tons of carbon pollution,” an amount that equals the yearly pollution from more than 840,000 cars.
The fact sheet also addressed recent extreme weather incidents that, while not necessarily caused by climate change, demonstrated the high cost to public health and the economy that the President raised in his remarks on Tuesday.
Climate change increases the public’s risks from such extreme weather events, such as the 10-inch rise in average sea level off Rhode Island since the 1930s which heightens “the risk of floods during storm surges and high tides,” said the fact sheet.
Rhode Island suffered severe floods in 2010 and coastal destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Damage caused by extreme weather can impact not only the well-being of residents, but also the health of the economy in the form of highway flooding and damage to tourist spots.
Other climate-related risks in the Northeast include heat waves and declining air quality that “increase risk associated with respiratory health and heat stress,” particularly in urban areas, and can lead to a rise in hospitalizations and even premature death, said the report.
In 2011, Rhode Island saw almost 1,500 hospital admissions for asthma related illness. Each stay had an average charge of over $17,200.
Rising temperatures in tandem with the increase in carbon dioxide concentration will result in greater pollen production and a longer pollen season, meaning further health risks for people with allergies. Agricultural production and fisheries are also “likely to be adversely affected as favorable climates shift,” the report noted.
The Rhode Island report concluded by reviewing past initiatives and recommending current “common sense” measures in Rhode Island to invest in clean energy, improve energy efficiency and prepare communities for the consequences of climate change.
One measure is Rhode Island’s commitment to reducing energy intensity 20 percent by 2020 in 18 million square feet of its buildings. The state established this goal as part of the President’s Better Buildings Challenge.
Another state goal is to generate 16 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.
This year, North Kingstown was selected as one of three U.S. communities to receive technical assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency in implementing smart growth strategies to improve the economy, boost job creation and protect health and the environment.