Beating the Heat

This year, our iconic Georgia peach suffered the most, with many farmers losing as much as 95% of their peach crop after the unseasonable warmth was followed by a late cold snap.

Johnson Tharon Square 200In a time of unprecedented division in our country, it is always worth starting off with a statement that we can all agree with. In this case, I would like to open with such a statement: Georgia is hot.

As we enter one of our hottest months of the year, with the high temperature averaging around 88 degrees in August, all of us are feeling the pain as we step outside and immediately begin to pour sweat in the humid Southern air, not to mention the pain from spiking air conditioning bills.

As unpleasant as it may feel right now, it’s hard to imagine how it could get worse – but it can. And on our current trajectory, it will. In fact, the first three months of this year (January through March) were the hottest in Georgia history, with temperatures averaging a balmy 56 degrees in the doldrums of winter. While those of us who enjoy our time outside might not have minded so much, the same can’t be said for our crops.

This year, our iconic Georgia peach suffered the most, with many farmers losing as much as 95% of their peach crop after the unseasonable warmth was followed by a late cold snap. The loss is devastating to the agricultural workers upon whom our state relies for so much of our economic strength.

This is no isolated incident, either – it was only six years ago that we lost 80% of our peach crop in a major freeze. As climate change continues, unusual and extreme weather events such as this will become increasingly common.

Peaches close up on a tree with leaves, Ga Peach Crop 2023According to the Georgia Climate Project, “an increase in ticks and mosquitoes, high pollen counts, wetter [or] dryer, summers, flooding issues, trout leaving warm waters and longer growing seasons are just some of the impacts of climate change, already seen and documented in Georgia.”

Already, farmers are being forced to adapt, with many experimenting with new crops to accommodate these changes. As record temperatures at both extremes in the last decade have proven, both in Georgia and throughout the world, climate change is real, it is here and it is showing no signs of slowing. With at least 250,000 climate migrants projected to move to the Atlanta area in the coming decades, now is the time to get ready.

However, not everyone believes the fact that our climate is changing. Due to the politicization of science, it has become harder to talk about climate change, much less act on it. While climate change may not be cited as the cause for some of our decisions and policies, there are promising things happening in Georgia to mitigate our carbon footprint.

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Georgia is a top 10 state for solar power, with nearly 6% of our state’s energy being produced in that way. That’s enough to power almost 600,000 homes, and our capacity is expected to increase by 60% in the next five years.

The technology only continues to improve, and Georgia is at the forefront of adopting it. Over 40 electric vehicle-related projects have been announced in Georgia since 2020 alone, such as the multibillion-dollar SK Battery plant. In all, these projects total nearly $22 billion in investment and 28,000 jobs. With last year’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which featured a generational investment in clean energy, these projects look to be only the beginning.

Our state’s capacity to create clean, renewable energy only continues to grow as we attract new investments and technologies. The primary driver for our state leaders may be economic, but it has the fortunate side effect of bolstering our efforts to mitigate climate change.

Ultimately, clean energy is the future. We may have enough fossil fuels to last us another 25, 50, or even 100 years, but it will run out. Fortunately, we’ve got another 4 or 5 billion years of sunlight coming our way. All that means is that we’ll be transitioning sooner or later and, thankfully, Georgia is choosing sooner.

There is always more that we can do. However, it is worth celebrating that in a state where it’s taboo for our leaders to say “climate change,” despite all the damage it is doing to our farmers and economy, we can still come together to make progress when our economic and scientific interests align.

Tharon Johnson received a Green Eyeshade award for serious magazine commentary for his December 2022 column, “Making Housing Affordable Again.” 

Categories: Opinions, Red Blue & You