Climate Change Close to Home


Photo Credit: Calvin Rogers. A beautiful blue sky on a sunny day in Allison Park.

Megan Kang, Writer

Beginning in elementary school, my teachers have taught my city’s impressive backstory every year: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a place with a history of serious pollution. It started in the 1800s with the industrial revolution. Industrialists established a prominent iron and steel industry that created jobs along with a booming economy. I can still point out neighborhoods near me with massive, old houses that were built off steel industry wealth.

However, life at the time was not always glamorous even for the rich. Factories crowded the area, pumping smoke into the air and chemicals into the three rivers. The city very quickly transformed into a scene of varying shades of gray. Any greenery and hints of blue sky were scarce. I felt bad for the people in the smoke-filled pictures, even more so when I found out that they experienced dreadful air and water conditions that threatened their lives. The whole world knew of Pittsburgh due to the magnitude of its dirtiness.

Thankfully, the iron and steel industry died down in a short time, and the city started creating new protocols to clean up the area. Sewage was no longer dumped into the rivers, and smoke expulsion lowered. Our rivers are now blue and beautiful, and we only see smoke escaping to the sky occasionally. Citizens in downtown could finally breathe fresh, clean air again, and Pittsburgh was one of the cleanest cities in the world. Such an amazing comeback story garnered a great amount of local pride. 

Even with Pittsburgh’s present reputation, some people still have the notion that Pittsburgh is a dirty city. The city’s environmental situation drastically improved quickly, so it makes sense that its old image is still remembered. Newcomers are often surprised by the beautiful landscapes of the area.

While Pittsburgh was able to overcome intense pollution, what it faces today and into the future will not be the same. The pollution before was contained regionally, and therefore, it was easier to identify and carry out supported measures. Even with the imminent danger of intense pollution and climate change in our world today, many governments cannot agree and enact impactful enough measures to reverse the dreary state of our world. Pittsburgh itself is in danger of reverting to its old state due to the denial and indecisiveness of some in the United States government. Pollution waves are coming back to the city because action is not being taken.

Our air pollution has been getting progressively worse over recent years. There are more and more days with weather notifications alerting of bad air quality. Smog is another issue that is plaguing Pittsburgh once again. Like in the past, residents with breathing concerns are experiencing more health issues because of the air quality. With climate change, the same effects are coming back to the area, but now it is also harder to address as one city.

If global warming continues in the same destructive pattern, sea levels will continue to rise worldwide. Even though Pittsburgh does not have any coasts, we are still threatened by these issues. Our distinguished three rivers – the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio River – will undergo changes with climate change. There could be more flooding in the future, posing a danger to infrastructure and general safety.

Photo Credit: Calvin Rogers. Nature in Allison Park.

President-elect Joe Biden considers climate change a top priority issue. He plans to enact many more policies and goals to turn around the environment for the better with a “Clean Energy Revolution,” but what does this mean for Pittsburgh and Hampton residents? 

Biden wants to ensure a 100% clean energy economy and reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050. We can expect to see shifts in Allegheny County away from fossil fuels. Infrastructure will be invested in for resilience measures, and awareness of the cause will enter headlines more than ever. Climate change is inevitable if the world does not act quick, but there is a glimmer of hope with a new administration.