Climate Task Force Member Urges Action Now

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Those who believe more time and study needs to be devoted before addressing the impact of climate change in the United States do so at a steep price, warns a member of a White House commission formed to help tackle the problem.

"It could cost $150 billion – not over time, but in a year," remarks Paula Brooks, a member of the Bipartisan White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. "We have to act now. It's getting worse and it's going to get more expensive the longer we wait."

Brooks, a Franklin County Commissioner, was on hand at Youngstown State University Monday and took a short tour of the university's solar panel array atop Moser Hall, and then The Williamson College of Business Administration. She then participated in a panel discussion held in Kilcawley Center.

The visit is part of a series of meetings Brooks is taking part in across Ohio in order to gather information for a report the task force is compiling that includes recommendations to the Obama Administration on how to better prepare the country in the face of drastic climate change.

These climate shifts wreak havoc with the country's electrical grid, food supplies, and natural resources, Brooks says, emphasizing a plan of action needs to be implemented quickly.

"I'm here to listen to members of the community, especially those with expertise, about how we can prepare our local communities, our state and our nation to be more resilient to climate impacts," Brooks says.

The Great Lakes states, for example, have witnessed a 38% increase in sudden, heavy rains -- called inundations – since 1958. In the Northeast, inundations have increased 71%. Meantime, in the West, extreme drought has beset states such as California, Texas and Kansas.

Martin Abraham, dean of YSU's College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, observes that regions are often rated according to total rainfall during a month or year, data that can be misleading.

"In a lot of areas, total rainfall hasn't changed much, but how it comes has changed," Abraham says.

The task force is in the process of preparing a long list of recommendations for the Obama Administration on a course of action. "We have about 500 recommendations and they've told us to get it down to about 100."

Among these recommendations are improvements to the country's infrastructure – roads and bridges, for example – and taking into consideration future climate swings. "The engineering hasn't taken into account climate impact. So, they'll be a recommendation to do that -- that we're not building for now, but 40 years from now."

Others recommendations involve providing additional access to food providers, and integrating natural water sources into any build plan that is developed.

Brooks says any plan going forward should include both the use of fossil fuels and an accelerated effort to adopt renewable energy as an important component to a comprehensive energy policy. "We need to ramp up everything, and that includes renewables."

YSU's solar array, for example, produces enough energy to power almost half of Moser Hall, Abraham says. The energy collected is fed back into the local power grid.

"It's pretty impressive how much energy this produces," Abraham says. "This is about a 50 kilowatt array."

Brooks also noted that global investment is starting to support renewable energy with even more vigor.

"The finance world is moving into renewables in a very big way, Brooks says. "There's going to be a huge scale-up around the globe."

Marietta Agathe, a recipient of a Mandela Young African Leadership Fellow who accompanied Brooks on the visit, says although the continent is in various stages of developing solar power, it's also learned from the mistakes of those countries that have deployed the technology.

"We are still learning about what has not worked well in the developed world," she says. "In the long-term, we will reap the benefits."

Agathe, who lives on the island nation of Mauritius just off East Africa, relates that her country is short on many natural resources, but there is plenty of sun and wind – perfect for a solar array or wind power.

"In many parts of Africa, it's very tropical, and we are not using the maximum capacity for solar energy," Agathe.

Brooks, the only member of the task force from Ohio and graduate of YSU, says addressing climate issues is also a matter of national security. Aside from her work as a county commissioner, she has worked on energy issues with the U.S. Department of Energy and the State Department. She was selected in December to be part of the task force, largely because of Franklin County's dedication to sustainable energy programs. Franklin County was one of the first counties in the country to set forth a policy that would lead it to environmentally and economically sustainable.

"Investments have to be aligned better to make sure we are on the cutting edge and our communities and populations overall are safe," Brooks says.

Pictured: Paula Brooks

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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