to the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
New York is the third most populous state in the United States with over 19 million people; it encompasses over 50,000 square miles and possesses 127 miles of coastline. There is plenty of evidence that climate change is already underway here. Winters are now an average of 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were in the 1970s, heavy downpours have increased in recent decades, and since 1990 there has been a one-foot rise in the state’s coastal sea levels. How will New York’s ecosystems, infrastructure, human health, and economy continue to be affected by climate change going forward?
According to a 2014 NYSERDA report, state temperatures are expected to rise between 2.0 and 3.4 degrees by the 2020s, and between 5.3 and 10.1 degrees by the 2080s. The frequency of extreme heat events will also increase. In addition, precipitation is expected to increase from 1-8 % by 2020s and from 4-15% by 2080s. Downpours will be heavier and there may be more precipitation in winter and less in summer.
This combination of higher temperatures, increased frequency of heavy downpours, and summer droughts in New York will likely:
alter ecosystems, both on land and in water
cause summer heat stress on humans, animals, and crops
affect drinking water supplies
increase heat-related deaths, water and food-borne illnesses, and vector-borne diseases like West Nile virus
worsen cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses because of increased pollution, smog, wildfires, pollen, and mold
reduce dairy production
spread invasive species
increase pest populations and create more difficult growing conditions, increasing the use of pesticides and fertilizers and thereby increasing water and air pollution
compromise the integrity of infrastructure
increase demands on electricity to meet cooling needs
increase flooding, including around key transport infrastructure like roads, railroads, airports, etc.
overwhelm sewage infrastructure, leading to an increase in pollutants in the water supply
Furthermore, rapid melting of the ice caps will contribute 3 to 8 inches in sea level rise by 2020s and 14 to 39 inches by 2080s. Rising sea levels could contaminate fresh water supplies and reservoirs and flood coastal areas.
The American Security Project projects that climate change will fuel a rise in intensity of Nor’easters and other extreme weather events in New York State, which will cause hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars worth of damage to infrastructure, property, goods, agriculture, and industry.
The vitality of our state’s economy relies heavily on the health of its natural resources. The loss of spruce-fir forests, for example, could have a major economic impact on regions such as the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes, whose economies are significantly bolstered by recreation and tourism.
Fish and forest animal populations will certainly be affected by climate change. New York’s hemlock forests, which provide habitat for many species, are already endangered by invasive wooly adelgid insects. The population of brook trout is also expected to experience significant damage as rising temperatures in the atmosphere spread to their water habitats. The economic impact of these climate change consequences should not be overlooked, as hunting and fishing contribute an estimated $3.5 billion to the state economy annually.
Skiing is another significant state industry that will likely be negatively affected by climate change in the form of shorter, warmer winters. Skiing contributes $1 billion per year to the state economy and employs over 100,000 people. Snowmobiling also contributes $3 billion to the Northeast’s regional economy every year and will be similarly affected.
New York’s agricultural sector contributes $4.5 billion to the state’s economy annually and is comprised of approximately 34,000 farms. Longer, warmer growing seasons will make it necessary to develop new pest-control strategies and identify new types of crops to grow. Although heavy downpours will become more frequent, the summer growing months will generally be dryer. Currently, most farms in New York depend solely on rainfall for their irrigation needs, so inconsistent or uneven precipitation patterns will likely take a significant toll on the farming sector.
One example of a climate-sensitive agricultural sector in New York is the grape and wine industry, which is especially important in the Finger Lakes region. New York’s grape harvest is the third biggest in the nation and is valued at $50 million. Climate change could bring opportunity to introduce new grape varieties to the region. Warmer temperatures at the beginning of winter, however, can also raise the likelihood of mid-winter damage. In addition, the earlier arrival of spring or extended warm periods soon after winter could result in premature budding on grape plants, which would then be vulnerable to spring frost.
Cabbage, potato, and apple crops are expected to undergo reductions in both size and quality as climate change continues to unfold. Although new crop varieties could be developed, it would not be easy or cheap. New York state could lose its Empire and McIntosh apples, for which it is recognized nationally.
Another significant agricultural sector in New York is the dairy industry. By the 2080s, it is expected that there will be a six-fold increase from current rates in the loss of dairy productivity due to heat stress, which also causes health and reproductive problems in cows.
Damage to industry, whether agricultural, recreational, tourist, or manufacturing, also means damage to jobs. According to the American Security Project, New York State’s job market is expected to take a huge hit because “climate change-sensitive industries conservatively account for 290,000 jobs and $77 billion in profits annually in New York.” Clearly, the health of the environment and economy are inextricably linked. We can soften the blow of climate change by investing in green jobs. Although many environmental changes are inevitable, we can still act now to prevent the worst effects of climate change and ensure a livable planet for future generations. It is clearly in our best economic and environmental interest to act sooner rather than later. __________________________________________________________________________