Editorial: We can’t afford not to respond to climate change

Editorial: We can’t afford not to respond to climate change

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call last week for a $3 billion bond to help fund habitat restoration and flood reduction may not have received as much notice as other items in his agenda starting with a renewed call for legalizing adult use of marijuana.

And with New York facing a $6 billion deficit next year, some may wonder where he – meaning you, the taxpayer – will get the money. In this case, the public will decide in a referendum on the bond in November.

But make no mistake: the money is needed.

The latest reminder of this painfully obvious fact comes in Australia where at least 27 people have been killed as bushfires have burned more than 12 million acres — an area approximately the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

The fires have also devastated Australia’s unique wildlife with an estimated one billion animals feared dead.

This is just the latest in a long series of events across the world that can be tied directly or indirectly to climate change.

Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a strong defender of oil and coal interests in his country, expressed regret about the fires but repeated that economic concerns would still play a key role in climate policies.

Sound familiar?

So Cuomo’s call for investing in environmental restoration merely reflects reality – notwithstanding the denials of President Donald Trump, almost every Republican in national office and Fox News.

“Scientists attribute the global warming trend observed since the mid-20th century to the human expansion of the ‘greenhouse effect’ — warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.”

Who says? Well, that last quote belongs to the NASA website.

The fact is that the impact of climate change is acknowledged across the federal government with the exception of Trump, his executive branch appointees and Republicans in Congress.

Just check the federal government’s budget starting with the Pentagon. The Navy cannot afford to be ideological in responding to the threat posed by rising seas to its bases. And the entire military is already planning how to combat a refugee crisis caused by climate change that could dwarf what happened in recent years in Syria.

Cuomo made a good case for a response by New York in his State of the State Book.

“Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee provided dramatic evidence of the threats New Yorkers face,” the book states. “Since 2011, every county in New York has
experienced at least two weather-related disaster declarations, and more than half have suffered five or more disasters. The Federal and State governments have spent
more than $26 billion in responding to these disasters. Scientists estimate that flooding will cause more than $50 billion in damage in New York over the next decade.”

Cuomo’s plan for the $3 billion he seeks would greatly benefit Long Island. It would restore wetlands, reclaim floodplains, add four artificial reefs off Long Island, plant 200 million oysters and clams in the Great South Bay and fund water quality projects.

The state must now make sure that the mechanisms are put in place to ensure that taxpayers get the best bang for the buck and needed improvements are not delayed.

The restoration and flooding plan comes on the heels of the Legislature’s adoption of a plan for New York to achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the state by 85 percent by 2050.

This is part of an effort by states to pick up the ball dropped by the Trump administration in combating carbon emissions and other contributors to climate change.

This effort includes the installation of solar, wind and storage capacity.

Cuomo’s plan also calls for at least 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind and an upgrade of a transmission line to bring renewable energy downstate.

Nassau County joined the effort last week by becoming the newest participant in the state’s Climate Smart Communities Program after legislation was signed by County Executive Laura Curran.

The Climate Smart Communities program began in 2009 as a state initiative focused on encouraging local governments to find ways to be more conscious of climate change.

The bill was unanimously passed by the County Legislature in December.

Along with lowering greenhouse emissions, the county vows to decrease energy usage, promote reuse and recycling of materials, enhance community resilience to impacts of climate change such as sea-level rise, and evolve a climate action research program to incorporate new ideas and initiatives.

The state of New York and Nassau County are faced with many challenges. And many cost money at a time when their budgets are stretched.

But this is one challenge that simply cannot be ignored because in the end we will pay one way or another.

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