Most New Yorkers didn’t need another report on the devastating impacts of climate change. We know what’s going on. We’ve seen it firsthand throughout the region. We saw it in NYC especially during Superstorm Sandy, when water poured into southern Manhattan and East River subway tunnels and ravaged communities in Queens and Staten Island.
Even given that, the analysis released Friday by the Trump administration was eye-opening, the grimmest assessment yet of the impacts of unabated climate change. It’s not a matter of whether to believe the evidence. It’s time to understand its implications and act — to slow the march of climate change and mitigate its inevitable effects.
More floods, death and heat
The latest National Climate Assessment, written by 13 federal agencies with input from more than 300 climate scientists, detailed climate change impacts in, for example, the Northeast. Like more than 30 days per year of high tide flooding in many Northeast cities by 2050. Like 650 more premature deaths per year from extreme heat by 2050, when the average annual temperature in the region is expected to be 4 degrees warmer than recent averages. Like a projected probable sea level rise of 2 to 4.5 feet by 2100, with some parts of the shoreline eroding inland at 3.3 feet per year. Like air quality worsening, with up to 300 more ozone-related deaths a year by 2050.
The national outlook is no better: By 2100, climate change could shrink the economy by 10 percent and force 13 million Americans, many in our region, to move from their homes because of rising seas. That’s disruption on a massive scale.
It isn’t just a future problem. The New York Renews environmental coalition says climate change already costs New York more than $10 billion per year.
No use waiting for President Donald Trump to wake up and smell the consequences. There is plenty that can and must be done now. In the absence of federal government action — more accurately, in the face of federal actions that would make climate change worse — state and local governments can lead. Some states, New York and California prominent among them, have done just that with ambitious plans to convert part or all of their electric supply to renewable energy sources. New York State should turn its aspirational goal to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030 into law.
NYC needs stronger infrastructure
All levels of government should strengthen their infrastructure to withstand the increased precipitation and flooding to come. Places like New York — with aging power, transportation, drainage and sewer systems — are particularly vulnerable. Better building codes would enable smarter decisions about where to build. The report itself — written by career federal scientists whose politically appointed superiors are seeking regulatory rollbacks that would exacerbate the problem — will be potent ammunition in court fights against those rollbacks.
The rest of us should do our part, too — by using less air conditioning, taking public transit, riding bicycles, buying local products including food, installing programmable thermostats.
There is no shortage of ways large or small to help stave off a crisis that has no shortage of ominous consequences.