Why Climate Change is Relevant This Week

Impacts to New York

This week, a report mapping sea level rise across the United States and a magazine article on the magnitude of climate change attracted a lot of attention. In the report “When Rising Seas Hit Home,” the Union for Concerned Scientists projects low, intermediate, and high scenarios for sea level rise across the lower 48 states, and New York, in particular, is highlighted as being at risk. Not to mention, the apocalyptic New York Magazine article that speculates on famine, economic collapse, and a possible human extinction as a result of climate change has made the issue especially relevant.

No part of New York, from Buffalo to Albany, will be untouched by climate change. In the sea level rise report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, New York City and Long Island are highlighted for “chronic inundation” which is defined as an area that is flooded at least 26 times per year in 10 percent or more of its usable, non-wetland area. In fact, four out of five of New York City’s boroughs (all but the Bronx) are expected to face some level of flooding over the next century. But sea level rise is just the beginning. A look at a variety of reports shows that New York has much more to worry about as global temperatures climb.

The agricultural industry will be especially impacted by climate change. As summer temperatures continue to rise, crop yield, crop quality, and livestock productivity, especially for the high milk-producing cows that we currently raise, will be affected. Warmer environments are also conducive to more pests, and New York farmers are already experiencing earlier arrival and increased populations of some insect pests, like the corn earworm. In addition to temperature rise, precipitation is expected to decrease and short-term (one- to three-month) droughts could occur as frequently as once each summer in the area of the Catskills and the Adirondacks. Although some experts argue that farmers will shift towards crops that are better suited to a warm-environment, it is important to note that this solution will be neither cost nor risk free.

Not only will the health of our environment deteriorate as a result of climate change, but public health itself will come under attack as a result of rising temperatures. By the end of the century, the climate in New York is expected to resemble that of Georgia in a worst-case scenario and Virginia in a better-case scenario. These warmer temperatures will expand ranges for disease-carrying insects that could bring West Nile virus, dengue fever, and Malaria to New York even more often. High temperatures can also increase pollen production and air pollution, further exacerbating respiratory issues. Heat waves will become increasingly common, up to 30 times a year, which can cause injuries and even death. One recent study even projects that temperature changes alone would lead to a 50% to 91% increase in heat-related deaths in Manhattan by the 2080s.

Now back to sea level rise, waterfront communities in New York likely will be devastated both by sea level rise and the increase in frequency and intensity of storms like Hurricane Sandy. With the expected two feet of sea level rise over the next century, New York State will have 212 miles of roads, 77 miles of rail, 3,647 acres of airport facilities, and 539 acres of runways underwater. And this doesn’t even consider the number of homes and buildings that will have to be abandoned because of flooding. New York was hit especially hard by Sandy, in the city and upstate, and damages were estimated at $60 to $80 billion, so as Sandy-like storms become commonplace we will have to be able to handle the kind of stress these storms put on our communities.

Climate change will affect every area of the globe, and New York is no exception to that. From health risks to destroyed infrastructure to reduced food production, there will be catastrophic impacts wherever you go within the state. At a time when climate change is becoming a daily topic of conversation, we must keep in mind the magnitude of the impacts that it will have on our lives. We need to keep fighting for aggressive carbon reduction goals and plan according to climate models so that future New Yorkers can continue to live and thrive in this state that we call home.