New York leads on climate crisis


With the passage in both houses of the State Legislature of the most aggressive bill addressing climate change in the country, and a vow by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week to sign it into law, New York is poised to take the lead in the fight against the world’s climate crisis.

The goals set forth in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act are lofty and ambitious: to reduce the state’s net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050. Bringing this bill to fruition will, no doubt, entail creative thinking and commitment in all sectors of our economy.

For the average homeowner, electricity costs could — and likely will — increase, according to power industry analysts. The state will also have to develop a smart plan to incentivise, rather than penalize, homeowners to switch over time from fossil-fuel furnances to electric models powered by renewable resources such as sun, wind and geothermal.

For businesses, again, the state will have to develop an intelligent set of incentives to encourage construction of new homes and buildings that are energy-efficient and powered by renewables.

Conservative critics of the legislation point to the additional costs associated with moving from fossil fuels to renewables. What they fail to recognize, however, is that those costs are short-term. Moving electric generation to a smarter grid and making new construction more energy-efficient will only save money over the long run. Isn’t it about time we begin to think in terms of decades, even centuries, rather than in the two-, four- and six-year time frames of our election cycles? We can be thankful that our Legislature is finally doing just that.

As a collection of coastal communities, Long Island is expected to experience some of the worst effects of the climate crisis. According to climatologists, our concern will be rising sea levels as the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland melt in a hotter world. On top of that, we will have to worry about stronger hurricanes — warmer oceans lead to greater surface evaporation, causing larger, more threatening storms.

According to Dr. Jace Bernhardt, assistant professor of geology, environment and sustainability at Hofstra University, if you were to take the average of most climate models produced by scientists around the world, the predicted sea level rise would be at least two feet by 2100, if we were to do nothing to address greenhouse gas emissions — the “business as usual” model that scientists speak of. That would inundate entire swaths of Long Island’s shoreline.

We’re nearly seven years out now, but many South Shore residents are still grappling with the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge. Sandy caused an estimated $65 billion in damage to homes and businesses across the Northeast. You can only imagine the devastation if the ocean had been two feet higher than it was.

So we are left with the question that is usually addressed more earnestly by risk-industry number crunchers than lawmakers: Do we let the storms get worse, and pay for the consequences with our tax dollars and insurance premiums, or do we overcome our human impulse of shortsightedness and protect ourselves from the pain of losing our homes, businesses and belongings by acting to reduce and eventually eliminate our carbon and methane emissions?

New York state certainly can’t do it alone, the climate deniers will undoubtedly argue, and that’s true. But as the third most populous state in the country — and one that produces more than 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation — we have the opportunity and, many would say, the responsibility to lead by example.

The federal government, under President Trump, has checked out on the issue, even going so far as to scrub definitive evidence of the climate crisis from federal websites and documents. Given that power vacuum, it’s incumbent on states to address environmental issues that are becoming more urgent by the day, and particularly coastal states such as New York.

So, kudos to Albany lawmakers for treating this issue with the seriousness that it deserves, in particular State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who, as chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, was chief architect of the Climate Leadership Act. Let’s only hope that we stay the course, and that other states — and nations — follow suit.