COMMENTARY: Addressing climate change vital for Delaware

Last week, even in the wake of the attacks on Paris, leaders from across the world gathered there to address the issue of climate change.

It’s a testament to the life-altering impact climate change will bring that nations around the world are keeping the issue front-and-center this week.

In Delaware, this isn’t just a theoretical issue, or something we can punt to our children and grandchildren. Already today, we’re feeling the effects of climate change in our state.

Think of the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk, teeming with tourists and beachgoers, or the Mispillion Harbor, a home for horseshoe crabs and the red knot. Think of your neighbors in the low-lying area of Little Creek.

Rep. John Carney Jr.

Rep. John Carney Jr.

All of these communities are threatened by climate change. Sea-level rise at the beaches and Prime Hook jeopardizes the houses, wildlife, and businesses there. And even in city neighborhoods like Southbridge, flood after flood continue to plague residents.

In the spring, I visited each of these places during a Climate Change Tour of the state. I spoke with residents of these communities, wildlife experts, and University of Delaware researchers.

Here’s one thing they all agree on when it comes to preparing for the effects of climate change: we have no time to lose.

So, what does this mean for all of us?

Slowly, but surely, heat waves will increase our electricity bills in the summer months. And the heat will cause Delaware’s already-weakened roads and bridges to deteriorate further. Higher temperatures and heavy rains could threaten our drinking water and compromise the land that the farmers in our bay communities rely on to grow their crops.

Our coastal communities will be hardest hit. Delawareans living in these areas will have to spend more and more of their hard-earned income on rising flood-insurance rates. Sea-level rise will eventually wash out roads, bridges, and homes. Entire towns could be destroyed.

According to some projections, sea levels in Delaware could rise as much as three feet by 2060. Tourism, driven by Delaware’s beaches, is a nearly $7 billion industry in our state. That’s 60,000 jobs. Sea-level rise that engulfs our coastal towns puts our state’s entire economy at risk.

As a low-lying coastal state, sea rise is more than an intellectual debate over the science behind climate change. For us, this is real.

There are some things we can do now to prepare. We need to provide the resources to protect shorelines from erosion. We need to make sure scientists and researchers have access to the tools to predict and model sea-level rise over the next years and decades, so we know what’s ahead. We need to make decisions about how we’re going to protect vulnerable communities.

But preparing for climate change and sea-level rise is only half the battle — we also need to take steps to stop it. In Congress, that means supporting legislation to reduce our use of fossil fuels, and increase our use of alternative energy technology. That’s why I’ve long pushed for policies like tax credits for companies to generate solar and offshore wind energy. And it’s why I’ve consistently opposed legislation designed to slow down or stop climate change research.

In Delaware, we’ve got a lot to lose — from the buzz of a busy Bethany Beach summer, to the retirement communities along the inland bays, to the homes of hardworking families in south Wilmington. Delaware can’t afford a future where climate change and sea-level rise are the new normal.

Climate change is a global issue. Delaware — and our nation — can’t address it alone. In fact, the U.S. is responsible for less than one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. Delaware is a downwind and downstream state, which means we suffer the effects of environmental and business decisions made in neighboring states. Climate change is a global problem, in need of global action, so, I’m encouraged that the world’s leaders are meeting this week to tackle the issue.

We need policies that prepare us for the effects of sea-level rise, and more importantly, that address the root causes of climate change. I’ll continue to fight for these priorities in Congress.

EDITOR’S NOTE: John Carney, a Democrat, represents Delaware in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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