New Yorkers will need to get used to storms like Superstorm Sandy, according to a study published recently by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Instead of every 500 years, scientists from the PNAS anticipate these storms will occur every 24 years now that flood heights are up 4 feet from several centuries ago.
The academy’s warning comes on the heels of similar caution from the New York City Panel on Climate Change. According to the panel’s report this year, sea levels and temperatures have risen dramatically. Mean annual temperatures increased 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century, precipitation increased 8 inches over the same time period, and sea levels in New York City have risen over a foot, which is twice the global rate of rising.
That rise will only accelerate more rapidly in the coming years, putting the city at serious risk for flooding. And while changes in temperature may seem insubstantial — none of us might notice, for example, if room temperature changed by a few degrees Fahrenheit — these changes have enormous implications for the environment and its inhabitants, particularly humans.
As a result of climate change that has already occurred, we are now experiencing more powerful storms, resulting in more damage to infrastructure in affected cities. In Brooklyn, thousands of families were displaced by Sandy, which flooded entire neighborhoods and ruined many homes, some of which have still not been rebuilt.
Worse, temperatures are projected to increase by nearly 6 degrees by 2050; heat waves will be more common; precipitation will increase up to 11 percent by 2050; and sea levels will rise up to 21 inches by 2050, up to 39 inches by 2080 and a worst-case situation of 6 feet by 2100.
We cannot allow this to continue. The problem of global climate change requires a global solution. We must work with other nations and their people to support the development of renewable energy and to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide that contribute to drastic changes in our climate.
We already have much of the technology we will need. We have electric cars, commercially available in the United States at prices that decrease every year. We have wind turbines and solar panels that continue to increase in capacity. None of these policies will, by themselves, reverse the effects of climate change. But a flexible approach to the problem, in which we consider all of the possibilities, offers us considerable hope for the future.
This flexible approach to climate change is not a Republican or a Democratic idea. Regardless of our partisan affiliation, we all have a responsibility to protect our earth and its people, as well as a profound concern for the generations that will follow us.
Yet today, there are still dinosaurs roaming the halls of Congress who insist we burn fossil fuels, and nothing other than fossil fuels, to produce our energy, a policy that will only exacerbate the problem.
Despite the challenges that exist, we remain optimistic. The women and men determining national policy on renewable energy and climate change are elected. If we raise our voices and organize on behalf of the broad interests of society as a whole, rather than the narrow interests of fossil fuel producers, we will influence the debate of climate change and elect leaders who are committed to this effort.
As the United Nations convenes the global climate change summit this November, bringing together representatives from every country to work toward a solution that accounts for the different needs of nations, the United States has a real opportunity to lead that process. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to developing policies that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and expand our capacity to create energy from renewable resources. No one is exempt from the ramifications of climate change should we fail to act.
We cannot afford delay, especially as Sandy-type superstorms become more common. With each year, the problem becomes more serious, and the range of potential solutions more limited. We encourage you to demand action from your elected officials on this issue. We have the ability to mitigate the effects of climate change. We need only the resolve to act. Now is the time.
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dr. Michael Shank is an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.