Regular flooding that puts large swaths of Fells Point and the Inner Harbor underwater. Blistering heatwaves that target some of the city’s most vulnerable people. Stronger summer storms and winters without snowfall.
This is Baltimore’s future unless the world takes drastic steps to mitigate some of the extremes of climate change, experts say. Even with immediate action, some change is baked in. We’re already living with climate change.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group charged with assessing climate science, was released earlier this week and makes it unequivocally clear that the climate is changing because of human activity — and there will be consequences.
“You don’t just ‘solve’ climate change and say, ‘OK, next problem, let’s move on,’” said Brian Fath, a professor at Towson University. “The climate has changed, and the world is different because of that.”
What will Maryland look like?
One easy way to think about what Baltimore (and most of Maryland) will be like in the future is to imagine the climate of the Deep South dropped over the mid-Atlantic, said Matthew Fitzpatrick, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
In 2019, Fitzpatrick published a study that explores what urban areas will feel like in 60 years because of climate change. He predicts that by the 2080s, Baltimore will have summers that are 6 degrees hotter on average and winters that are 9.1 degrees warmer on average than today.
It’s most comparable to the current climate of Cleveland, Mississippi, a city in the northwest corner of the state.
“Even though these numbers sound small, it’s really a whole lot of climate change very, very rapidly. We’re talking over a handful of decades,” Fitzpatrick said.
The summer heat waves that we think of as anomalies today will be closer to the average summer temperature in the relatively near future. Heat waves are recognized as among the deadliest type of natural disaster.
And it won’t just be temperatures. The climate is changing because the burning of fossil fuels traps more energy in the Earth’s atmosphere. That energy makes it more likely that everywhere — Baltimore and Maryland included — will experience more extreme weather events.
“The extremes become more common,” Fitzpatrick said.
That means that, even though Maryland is actually predicted to see slightly drier summers with slightly less rainfall, the summer storms will likely be larger and include more precipitation per storm, making flooding more of a possibility.
So what now?
If the climate is already changing, and some catastrophe is already expected, what are we supposed to do with the information in the newest United Nations climate report?
Fath, the Towson University professor, said there’s no going back to “pre” climate change. But there’s work that could be done now to help mitigate the worst extremes.
“I find the report to have a tone of urgency and optimism at the same time,” Fath said.
A few years ago, the climate report put out by the United Nations struck a grim tone, warning that “life” on Earth could adapt to severe climate change, but that humans would not be able to, if no action was taken to mitigate the damage.
This time, the agency says there is still time for “ambitious action” to “secure a livable sustainable future for all.”
The report makes it clear that the entire world must shift, quickly, to clean energy. It says a “substantial” reduction in overall fossil fuel use is necessary, and that “choices made in the next few years will play a critical role in deciding our future and that of generations to come.”
Experts say that individual action will not solve the climate crisis alone. Cutting carbon emissions to keep the world from experiencing the most severe levels of warming will require government and corporate-level action.
But it is also true that every bit of carbon that’s kept out of the atmosphere helps. Electrifying your home, driving less and getting involved with groups such as the Chesapeake Climate Action Network are among the things that can help mitigate the damage.
Sometimes, experts said, the best answer to what a person can do to help is simple: anything.