The sun has been shining and the birds have been chirping in the unseasonably high March temperatures, but environmentalists see this season as a possible effect of global warming. Channing Jones, field associate with Environment Rhode Island Research and Policy Center, said yesterday at a press conference that pollution and emissions have a direct correlation to natural disasters, and if action isn’t taken now to reduce our collective carbon footprint, the state can look forward to many more floods, hurricanes and hefty cleanup bills.
According to Federal Emergency Management Agency data, every county in Rhode Island has experienced a weather-related federally declared disaster between 2006 and 2011. Kent County has experienced two in the last two years: the floods of 2010, and the wrath of Irene in 2011.
“The entire state of Rhode Island has seen the effects of weather-related disasters and the great threat they pose to Rhode Island’s safety and economy,” said Jones at a press conference yesterday.
Jones introduced “In the Path of the Storm,” a report compiled by Environment Rhode Island that shows the direct effect of global warming on weather-related incidents.
“We need to do everything we can to cut our carbon pollution now,” he said.
The frequency of weather-related disasters correlates to extreme weather, which is a result of global warming caused by emissions, said Jones.
In order to prevent further disasters, Jones suggests that officials move to improve the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI puts a cap on carbon pollution emissions from the power sector. Jones said RGGI has led to $4 million in investments of energy efficiency programs that have saved 80 million kilowatts of energy.
Mayor Scott Avedisian highlighted some of the ways the city has moved forward on a greener, more energy efficient path, without breaking the bank.
“The first thing that everyone does is panic about how much money it’s going to cost,” he said.
Avedisian said small measures like changing out inefficient bulbs in traffic lights and city buildings, enforcing a no-idling policy for school buses and ramping up recycling programs have all led to a smaller carbon footprint.
“We reduced our carbon production by 480 tons,” he said. “Not all solutions require a lot of money.”
Janine Burke, executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority, said they are still dealing with the $14 million in damages incurred during the March 2010 flood. The Sewer Authority is now taking steps to elevate pump stations and put a levy around the water treatment facility. She hopes to be more prepared if another natural disaster strikes.
“Everyone in the city of Warwick and the Sewer Authority has a lot to fear from climate change,” she said. “It’s pretty clear to me that this is a real condition and we can expect a major rainstorm every five years.”
In addition to preparing for another disaster, Burke said the treatment facility is also looking for ways to cut back on energy use.
“The waste water treatment facility is the largest consumer of energy in the city of Warwick,” she said. “We’re looking at options for generating our own power. We want to do whatever we can to reduce our carbon footprint. We want to leave the planet better than when we got here.”
Jones said that global warming cannot be pinpointed as the cause for specific weather events, but it is consistent with scientific findings that global warming affects extreme conditions. Jones said global warming might be the cause of increased rainfall, higher sea levels, hurricanes and unusually warm seasons.
Yesterday’s press conference was held out in the blaring sun and 60-degree weather outside of the Sewer Authority. Jones thought it was an appropriate setting that served as a prime example of his findings.
“It’s definitely fitting,” he said. “We shouldn’t be seeing this weather for another few weeks.”