Climate Change in Maryland: The Health of the State’s Economy Depends on How We Respond

, , Deputy director, Climate & Energy | February 26, 2014, 5:19 pm EDT
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According to a new report from the Labor Network for Sustainability, Maryland’s working people are already suffering the consequences of climate change and many jobs may be under threat in the future.

Maryland is already dealing with local climate impacts and there are 2.3 million workers in the state across many sectors — including retail, health care, construction, tourism, manufacturing, farming, and fishing — who could feel the consequences. “For most,” says the study, “their future prospects in life depend on what will happen to their jobs. We now know that future will be deeply affected by climate change.”

Workers face new threats to their jobs from climate impacts Photo: MTA/NY

Workers face new threats to their jobs from climate impacts.
Photo: MTA/NY

Increased coastal flooding and storm damage, and more weather extremes, including worse and more frequent heat waves, are all projected for Maryland. And with much of its land area and 70 percent of its population in the coastal zone, the fact that the state’s sea level has been rising at around twice the national average gives serious cause for concern.

Jobs likely to come under threat as climate impacts take hold

The new report, The Impact of Climate Change on Work and Working People in Maryland,  is a compelling synthesis of previous research, and draws heavily on work undertaken by the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research (CIER). It identifies the threat of sea level rise to the Port of Baltimore as one of the potentially most significant impacts for jobs in the state.

The Port of Baltimore and its operations are likely to be impacted by climate change. Photo: Gregg Sloan.

The Port of Baltimore and its operations are likely to be affected by climate change.
Photo: Gregg Sloan.

The Port is directly or indirectly responsible for the creation of 50,000 jobs and another 120,000 maritime and related jobs are linked to the Port’s operations.

An analysis by CIER identified higher rates of sedimentation of the Chesapeake Bay’s main shipping channels as a likely consequence of increased upstream flooding resulting from spring and summer storms and from coastal erosion. A need to increase channel-dredging operations would drive costs up, but without it, ships might not be able to navigate to the Port. Increased storm activity could also reduce the number of days that ships are able to dock in the harbor.

Currently, the Port of Baltimore generates $3.2 billion in business revenue and $3.7 billion in wages and salaries. According to a 2008 Maryland state analysis cited in the Labor Network for Sustainability report, a one percent decrease in shipping activity between now and 2018 would hit Maryland’s GDP to the tune of approximately $361 million and potentially cause a loss of more than 3,600 jobs.

Losing tourism dollars would put pressure on the private and public sectors

Tourism and recreation industry workers are another vulnerable group. According to the report, 30 million visitors come to Maryland annually. The money they spend supports 135,000 full-time equivalent jobs, paying $3.8 billion in wages and salaries.

Maryland’s tourism could be at risk both from a projected marked increase in the number of extremely hot days every year, and from coastal flooding impacts on beaches, malls, stadiums, golf courses, and amusement parks. Popular beach resorts and tourist attractions including Ocean City, Assateague Island, downtown Annapolis, and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. Fells Point, Baltimore’s historic shipbuilding district where the USS Constellation was built in 1797 and Fort McHenry (which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner) have also been identified as at risk from rising waters.

Rising sea levels could affect tourism revenue in Ocean City, Maryland's largest beach resort. Photo: Tex Jobe, U.S. ASrmy Corps of Engineers

Rising sea levels could affect tourism revenue in Ocean City, Maryland’s largest beach resort.
Photo: Tex Jobe, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Labor Network for Sustainability study also highlights the fact that a whole range of climate impacts in Maryland will increase state budget pressures, whether through increased costs – such as for raising roads and infrastructure out of flood zones – or through lost tax revenue (e.g. from tourism or maritime operations). The study suggests that “The impact of these budget pressures on working people in the public sector is likely to include extensive layoffs, permanent downsizings, further pressure on wages and benefits…”

Clean energy creates a path to new jobs 

The report concludes by proposing increased measures to create new jobs by protecting the climate, noting for example that the steelworkers union (USW) recently gave its support to Maryland’s plan to build a wind farm off the Delmarva coast that could create up to 4,000 jobs during the construction phase and 800 permanent jobs.

Quoted in the report, Fred Mason, president of the Maryland and DC AFL-CIO said at Maryland’s 2013 Climate Change Summit “Addressing climate change is not a distraction from solving our economic problems but a critical element in the solution.” Mason also noted the need for “a just transition to a low carbon-emissions economy” so that we can meet and respond to the needs and concerns of Maryland workers whose jobs depend on high-emissions energy sources in industries such as paper and steel fabrication plants, rail yards, and trucking.

Joe Uehlein, Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability and a member of the UCS National Advisory Board said in launching the report, “This study shows that Maryland working people have an overwhelming interest in climate protection…And climate protection offers the best potential way of meeting our pressing need for jobs.”

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  • mememine69

    Funny how news editors never state what the scientific consensus is;
    “Climate change is real and is happening and could lead to unstoppable warming.”

    In 31 years science has NEVER agreed beyond; “could be” and has never said or agreed that a climate change crisis WILL be; “unavoidable”, “imminent”, “inescapable”, “inevitable” or “eventual”, unlike how they like they say evolution is proven and smoking will cause cancer and comet hits will be inevitable.
    (Look for yourself; I could not find one IPCC warning with any of these words and nothing beyond “could be.)
    So what’s to believe in besides a crisis “could” happen?