Commentary: It’s time for Delaware to act on climate change

Source: CDC. No endorsement implied or intended.

The best science — and daily news — inform us that our climate is changing at an unprecedented and alarming rate, with profound impacts on health and safety.

We are all aware that climate change-related disastrous events, such as forest fires, floods, heat waves and drought, have become more frequent. These events have caused serious injuries and deaths. No place is immune from these disastrous events.

Longer-term climate change will lead to heat-related illness and premature deaths, spread of new and unfamiliar insect-borne disease, new viruses and respiratory diseases, and mental health issues. Additional threats to our water and food supply and safety issues will add additional physical and health burdens. In addition, sea level rise will add new and extraordinary challenges to local and state governments. These events together will pose a serious threat to our economy and our national security.

While the destructive health and economic impacts of climate change will be felt by everyone, the burdens will fall disproportionately on those who are economically disadvantaged, like communities of color and indigenous people, children, elderly and those who have disabilities or preexisting health conditions.

Without urgent response to climate change, there will be excessive illness, disabilities and deaths in our communities, resulting in shortages of workers for our businesses, and it will also severely test the ability of the local health care system to sustain itself.

Surveys of the U.S. population have shown that over three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the impact of climate change. Gov. John Carney’s important Delaware’s Climate Action Plan (2021) reports concerns in Delaware, as well as increasing risks. It also finds a “climate action gap” between where we are and where we need to be — and encourages other perspectives on how systemic public action (and also personal lifestyle changes) can contribute to safer, longer-term solutions.

That is why we professionals, legally required to practice in Delaware on the basis of “best available science” to protect the public health, safety and welfare, feel an obligation to contribute our part to raise up the urgency of the matter to the attention of our citizens and, based on our Delaware experience, offer a science-based but practical Delaware local solutions framework to carbon-down and green-up our communities.

Please join us in urging the elected officials at all levels to take prompt legislative and administrative actions at the systemic level to reduce the risks to life and property in Delaware from declining biodiversity, rising pollution and rising greenhouse gases. The governor and the legislators must set specific science-based carbon-reduction targets to close what the governor’s report calls “the climate action gap” across all four primary carbon sectors of Delaware, and it must be “at scale and on time,” as the science dictates. We see these as the essential, structurally connected “four legs” of Delaware’s clean, green future:

  • Zero-carbon technology via renewable energy, electric vehicles and building new energy-efficient buildings according to the New Buildings Institute’s (NBI) Decarbonization Building Decarbonization Code.
  • Zero-carbon-compatible toxic-free diets and environmentally friendly food-production systems.
  • Zero-carbon-compatible walkable community design, like compact, verdantly tree-lined communities, and at-scale investment in preservation of nature to deal with excessive rainfall or heat waves.
  • Zero-carbon-compatible cultural shifts to well-being-based consumption, i.e., less consumption, more recycling and implementation of public policies that promote improvement in quality of life.

Zero-carbon-compatible systemic thinking, in all four carbon sectors is essential to our health and even survival.

Because we have delayed acting for so long, we must now make ambitious but still doable cuts in real greenhouse gas pollution. We must build upon the cut of 25% by 2025 that Delaware’s Climate Action Plan reports we are already on track to reach and complete the science-based timeline of cutting at least 45% by 2030 and eliminating 100% between 2040-50.

This is the time to act to preserve health and safety in Delaware, support our businesses and make our investments more secure.

Dr. Mohammad N. Akhter of Selbyville is the former executive director of the American Public Health Association. John E. Mateyko of Newark is the former president of the Delaware Board of Architects. Both are members of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s Delaware Working Group, focused since 2000 on climate, biodiversity loss and pollution control.

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