The representatives from Harford County Climate Action made it clear — human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, has had a clear and measurable impact on the Earth’s climate over the last century, and those actions have put low-lying areas of Harford County in danger from rising sea levels.
“Science will stand the test of time, no doubt about that, but the fossil fuel industry and most of our leaders failed us,” Lakshmi Tadepalli, a microbiologist who has studied cancer and neuroscience, said during a presentation to the Harford County Council during its legislative session in Bel Air Tuesday evening.
Tadepalli, an Abingdon resident; Fawn Palmer, a biologist and environmental educator who lives in Abingdon; and Tracey Waite, a Bel Air resident and president of the volunteer group, spent about 40 minutes before the council.
They presented scientific evidence of human-cased global warming and climate change, discussed how the fossil fuel industry has spent years trying to sow doubt about climate change and answered questions from council members.
The presentation came two months after Council President Richard Slutzky, citing his Internet research of the writings of academic authorities on climate and other scientific disciplines, said he doubted changes in the climate over millennia have been the direct result of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, but were naturally occurring. He called claims to the contrary “bogus.”
Slutzky’s remarks during the Feb. 13 council meeting engendered some scorn and ridicule in the community, and a number of people spoke in rebuttal to him at the council meeting Feb. 20.
Harford Climate Change leaders said in a news release Tuesday afternoon they had been invited by Slutzky to give their presentation at that night’s council meeting “about how we know that climate change is human-made and what we can do about it. “
“Climate change refers to a cascade of changes that starts with global warming,” Waite explained to the council.
She said greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, trap warmth from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere “like a cozy blanket” and prevent temperatures from getting too cold at night.
“The more greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere, the more heat gets trapped,” Waite said.
She said scientists have known for years that warming and climate change could lead to sea level rise and greater and more frequent storm surges, putting low-lying cities such as New York City at risk, but they have been dismissed as “alarmist” by skeptics.
Waite showed photos of heavy flooding of the 9/11 memorial construction site in Lower Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and melting streets in the Indian capital of New Delhi in 2015.
Palmer showed a map of the Harford County shorelines that face great risk of storm surge flooding, sea level rise and tidal inundations.
The areas at greatest risk were marked in red, and much of the red area was on Aberdeen Proving Ground. Coastal areas around Havre de Grace, Edgewood and Joppa are also at risk, according to the map, which also shows multiple hazardous waste, brownfield and Superfund sites close to high-risk areas.
Palmer said tidal gauges have shown 14 inches of sea level rise along Maryland shorelines in the past 111 years, but the 2014 National Climate Assessment projects 4.2 feet of sea level rise locally by 2100, based on satellite data.
“That map should make you a little nervous,” Palmer said.
Waite also showed graphs tracking global carbon dioxide levels and temperatures going back 400,000 years, based on ice core samples.
She said fluctuations in both levels happened naturally over the millennia, through various ice ages. The carbon dioxide levels ranged from valleys of 180 parts per million to peaks of about 290 ppm, until 1950, when the levels kept climbing to their current height of more than 400 ppm, according to the graph.
Waite said “it is not a coincidence” that such an “unusual increase” happened around the same time humans began burning fossil fuels such as coal on a regular basis.
She said it normally takes 5,000 to 20,000 years for a fluctuation of 100 ppm to happen naturally.
“The recent increase of 100 parts per million from 290 to 409 has occurred in the last 120 years,” Waite said.
Tadepalli said the Union of Concerned Scientists has obtained internal company documents that show major fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil knew as early as 1977 that burning fuels such as oil would cause climate change.
The organization released “The Climate Deception Dossiers” in 2015, according to its website, https://www.ucsusa.org.
Exxon prepared an internal report and shared it with other firms, stating “unequivocally that burning these fossil fuels was causing climate change and that the relevant science is well established, beyond doubt, cannot be denied,” Tadepalli said.
She said the fossil fuel industry worked to sow doubt and discredit scientists who warned of climate change, and “the deliberate campaign to deceive the public continues even today” despite clear scientific evidence.
Tadepalli said “there are smart ways to fix this problem,” such as alternate energy that can lead to cleaner air, independence from fossil fuels, job growth and long-term cost savings. She noted the City of Havre de Grace’s use of solar energy to run its government buildings.
Waite said “Harford County is doing some great things” by promoting the use of solar and geothermal energy, and it is being used in schools, senior centers and libraries.
“There are a lot of good things happening,” she said. “We’re hoping to work together to accelerate that.”
The presentation met with an enthusiastic response from council members. Councilman Joe Woods asked Waite if her group could make a similar presentation for local community advisory boards.
“We would love to,” she replied.
Slutzky said Tuesday he wants to make the public aware of Harford County Climate Action and put out their contact information so people can join if interested.
Council meetings are broadcast online and on Harford Cable Network, so “the public will have a chance to see this presentation,” Slutzky said.
He thanked Climate Action members for “taking the time to come and meet with me and have those conversations.”
“I think that this was a good thing for the public to be included in, and thank you for your membership, for showing up,” Slutzky said.
Visit https://hcclimateaction.org for more information.