Extreme temperatures pose a serious, long-term health threat for people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, respiratory diseases, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illness and multiple sclerosis. We all know that people die of heat stroke in the summer or of heart attacks after shoveling snow. We know a lot less about the long-term effects on large populations of living in extreme heat and cold. Reporters at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland are working with National Public Radio and students at Wide Angle Youth Media in Baltimore on a project to look at how heat and cold in Baltimore homes affect residents' health – particularly as climate change becomes more and more significant. Learn more and get involved.

Baltimore’s Commission on Sustainability says connection between humans’ actions and climate change had “never been stronger”

By Leah Brennan

Capital News Service
April 10, 2019

In 2009, Baltimore’s Commission on Sustainability, and the city’s sustainability office, issued a call to action — the connection between humans’ actions and climate change had “never been stronger,” and it was time to figure out what to do about it.

“We are facing unprecedented changes in the global climate,” the city’s sustainability plan read, “and there is no time to waste in developing strategies to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions so that future generations will be able to enjoy the same resources we have today.”

If things didn’t change, the globe’s current practices could rise by up to “eight degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.” And this would have real day-to-day consequences for residents, through more intense extreme weather and rising temperatures — and potentially higher energy bills, too.

Through a citywide effort, which included work by city agencies, nonprofits, faith-based institutions and other groups, Baltimore accomplished many of the goals in the plan -- including reducing residential gas use by 2.7% and electric use by 8.1% from 2007 baselines, weatherizing more than 10,000 residences and training more than 800 residents for “green construction careers.”

“The first plan was really groundbreaking for Baltimore City in being the first time a government entity said, ‘It’s about the environment,’” said Miriam Avins, the sustainability commission’s co-chair. “And it did a very good job of that. It was very appropriate.”

By 2019, Baltimore advanced or accomplished more than 90 percent of the goals it laid out in its first plan, which also covers topics such as resource conservation, greening and transportation.

The efforts continue in the city’s new 2019 sustainability plan, which takes on an “equity lens” to “acknowledge the unequal circumstances created by generations of systemic and institutional racism.”

But, it still has a ways to go.

Of the goals set in the Climate Action Plan, an offshoot from the sustainability plan, just 21% — 8 out of 37 recommendations — have been completed, according to Lisa McNeilly, the sustainability director for the city’s planning department.

Examples of recently completed measures in the plan, which was adopted in 2012, include encouraging the state to increase its Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires increased production of renewable energy, and implementing or expanding programs to amp up fuel-efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Port of Baltimore.

Many of the plan’s recommendations take several years to implement — so though work has begun on more goals, they have yet to be completed, McNeilly wrote in an email.

While the city, state and nation continue to push efforts to reduce the impact of climate change, residents in Baltimore still see the effects of more extreme weather conditions. Just in this year’s Code Blue season, which stretched from mid-November to mid-March, Baltimore has declared eight Code Blues — when the city puts out information to assist residents in extremely cold weather.

And for residents like Maraizu Onyenaka — who live in older, drafty houses that are protected against the cold better in some rooms than others — the impact of extreme cold is apparent in more expensive energy bills. This year, Onyenaka said her monthly gas and electric bill is now “solidly” more than $200.

“It wasn’t last winter,” she said.

Capital News Service reporters are spending time across East Baltimore to talk to residents like Onyenaka about their experiences with extreme heat and cold. If you’re interested in taking part — helping us collect temperature data, or sharing how more extreme temperatures affect your life — please contact us.