Yesterday New York City’s Panel on Climate Change released their updated projections of what the future climate will likely hold for the city, and in a world that has seen the last 339 consecutive months of globally averaged temperatures exceed the 20th century average (that’s right, anyone under the age of 28 is yet to experience a month in their lives of at or below average temperatures!), it should come as no surprise that the outlook has worsened from the Panel’s previous projections made only three years ago.
In roughly 40 years from now the city could have more than 800,000 of its residents living in flood zones — an 101% increase from those presently living in flood zones over an area that will cover more than 1/4 of the entire city. The one to two and a half foot rise from present day sea-level by the 2050’s will not only cause almost 10% of the city to potentially flood at high tide, which occurs twice daily, but help cause the storm surge of a once-in-a-century storm to exceed the record 14-foot storm surge generated by Hurricane Sandy by 5 or more feet.
For those not directly impacted by rising seas in NYC, you get to look forward to a mid-century climate that will resemble the deep south more than what’s outside today. In a city that already sees it’s fair share of unbearable heat during the summer, by 2050 the number of 90-degree days per year in NYC could increase to what is now normal for Birmingham, AL. Even on a daily basis, average temperatures by mid-century could be as much as 7 degrees hotter than today.
In the face of these stark projections, Mayor Bloomberg announced plans today that outline adaptation and resiliency measures to enhance the city’s defenses against human-induced changes in climate that already (notice, this is not a problem for future generations but one we face today) threaten the city’s (and anyone living just about anywhere…) sustainability and livelihood — which will be drastically amplified by mid-century should man-made GHG emissions continue to go unmitigated. In a world that has been historically “reactive” to the impacts of climate change instead of “proactive” in an effort to reduce damages, costs and loss of life, it was a nice breath of fresh air to hear “[we] have to look ahead and anticipate any and all future threats, not only from hurricanes and other coastal storms but also from droughts, heavy downpours and heat waves – many of which are likely to be longer and more intense in the years to come” from the mayor.
While his plan will cost an aggregate of $20 billion over 10 years in what would initially appear to be another typical hefty price tag that those hesitant to address climate change typically point to, it’s essential to take into consideration the reality that Sandy (one storm) cost the city $19 billion in a matter of days, and is estimated to cost $90 billion if a similar storm were to occur roughly 30 years from now. In a country and world of extreme weather and climate events that are occurring in greater frequency and intensity as a result of man-made climate change — and the overwhelming consensus from climate scientists is that this trend will continue in a warming world —
the cost-benefit analysis makes this plan a sound, viable investment for NYC that can serve as a model for what other cities, states, and even nations should be doing.
If I were a climate change skeptic my standard follow-up question to any case being made for a substantial investment to address impacts of climate change would be “where’s the money for this going to come from?” While I fight the urge to write a few paragraphs addressing the “beliefs” of climate change skeptics (and present the scientific facts), this is a great question, and the answer in this case is yet another reason I love the mayor’s plan. Unlike some comprehensive proposals to address climate change that have hand-wavy explanations as to where the necessary funding would come from, the mayor clearly outlines that roughly half of the investment over a 10-year period will be covered by federal and city money already allocated in the capital budget, and from $5 billion in appropriations already committed to by Congress through programs developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. This leaves $5 billion to be accounted for, and while I’m yet to be able to fully absorb the 430-page document it is already widely reported that the plan outlines numerous additional ways to raise funds to account for the remaining cost, and in the grand scheme of things finding an average of $500 million a year (i.e. less than 0.6% of the NYC’s annual budget) over the next 10 years doesn’t strike me as an insurmountable challenge. Also worth noting is that for each $1 invested in the city’s resiliency to climate change there are monetary savings each time sections of the city are spared from what would be otherwise costly impacts if not for these renovations.
While describing aspects of his new climate plan Mayor Bloomberg’s speech highlighted a key message that needs to be better understood by the American people and other developed countries: climate change is not a problem to be faced by future generations in a third-world country, but is instead a destructive beast that we not only created but injected with steroids and let lose in our own backyard. Looking close enough you might just make out the “S” under the mayor’s shirt or part of the untucked cape showing below his jacket,
but if we’re going to defeat this three-headed monster we’ve all had a hand in creating…
we’ll need more than a super-man to address climate change…we’ll need you.