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Too Hot to Handle

Data shows Pittsburgh, and the rest of the country, just keep getting warmer

We’ve all noticed that temperatures in Pittsburgh have seemed a little warmer in recent years.

A lot of that, according to data compiled by the National Climatic Data Center, has to do with the fact that Pennsylvania emits approximately one percent of the entire world’s greenhouse gases. If it continues, scientists say, Pennsylvania could look more like Georgia or Alabama by the end of the century.

Pennsylvania had its second-warmest year ever in 2006, and the same is true for the other 47 contiguous states, according to data compiled by the NCDC. The American Lung Association also rated Pittsburgh the second-worst metropolitan area in terms of airborne pollutants.

PennEnvironment, a statewide advocacy and research organization that uses scientific data to reveal the consequences of global warming, released a report last Tuesday further emphasizing the need for political action. PennEnvironment began gathering data in 2000 at 255 stations located in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. That data was then compared to the 30-year average from 1971 to 2000.

Justin Wasser, field organizer for PennEnvironment, already sees the consequences of global warming.

More than 200 people were killed last summer during a heat wave that swept across North America in July and August. Pittsburgh’s average temperature was 1.6 degrees above normal in 2006 and this year is currently on pace to replace last year as the second-warmest in recorded history.

“I still wonder why global warming is such a contentious debate,” Wasser says. “There are very powerful research organizations with a plethora of data obtained by scientific methods without bias. Yet, somehow there are still skeptics.”

Pennsylvania emits so much greenhouse gas partly because of the commonwealth’s large coal consumption. Coal is among the most problematic fossil fuels to burn because it contains high levels of carbon dioxide, one of the worst pollutants to the environment.

If global warming goes unchecked, experts say, it could severely damage our agricultural sector (milk production could drop by 20 percent), and the lack of winter weather would force the closure of ski resorts statewide.

PennEnvironment is asking national, state and local politicians to support a 15- to 20-percent decrease in greenhouse gases by 2020 and an 80-percent decrease by 2050.

The 80-percent decrease of greenhouse gases is a “very ambitious” goal, according to Stan Kabala, research professor of Duquesne University’s Center for Environmental Research and Education, but it is attainable.

“This is a very possible reality if we take things seriously, if we set the bar high and get creative,” Kabala says. “It’s going to take massive changes in our country to attain that goal, but there is a growing consensus that we can pull this off.”

Wasser compares the current situation to one faced by our country in the 1960s. In 1961, President Kennedy said that America would land on the moon before the end of the decade despite the lack of technology to attempt such a feat.

Although Kennedy never lived to see it, America made it to the moon in 1969.

“If we have the will of the people and determination from the government, we can lead the entire world in this fight,” he says. “It’s not an issue of who’s right or left of the political spectrum, it’s one of what’s right and wrong.”

PennEnvironment are asking Gov. Ed Rendell to use scientific methods to cut down on greenhouse gases in Pennsylvania. Rendell is expected to release a statewide global-warming plan in the near future.

There are still skeptics of global warming in the scientific community whom Kabala thinks are holding back progress.

“A lot of skeptics are funded by companies that don’t want to face global-warming issues,” he said. “They look like independent and objective researchers when they are really fronts for oil companies.”