Climate Change in New York

It's real, and it's serious.


This photo from NASA shows how hot the Earth has gotten in recent years. The red color indicates higher-than-average temperatures. Photo credit to the Washington Post.

Climate change is a controversial topic. Some people believe in it and some don’t. Some probably try to deny it because they’re scared and don’t want to face the facts. But regardless of what everyone’s opinions might be, the fact of the matter is that climate change poses a serious threat and needs to be given attention.

In my AP Environmental Science class, we recently completed a unit on climate change. One activity we did during this unit was look at how climate change will affect New York City, and even Rye, in the future. It was both a fascinating and terrifying activity.

Because of increased greenhouse gas emissions within the last century, the Earth is warming. The mean global temperature has risen 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, which is actually a very dramatic change (NASA). In fact, “eighteen of the 19 warmest years all have occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998” (NASA). These emissions come from, but are not limited to, burning fossil fuels (carbon dioxide) and belching cows (methane). There are a number of reasons why more greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere, and many of their consequences are extremely negative.

This overall warming of the Earth is leading to a whole slew of problems. It is responsible for the melting of continental ice, which, in turn, rises sea levels. These rising sea levels are what will have the greatest impact on New York. The areas of lowest elevation in Manhattan are only five feet above sea level. Now, sea levels rising five feet in our lifetime seems like a lot. However, scientists predict that sea levels could rise by six feet by the end of the century, meaning that parts of New York City, including Fulton Street down by the Brooklyn Bridge and the Seaport District, will be underwater.

If sea levels were to rise six feet, this is how lower Manhattan would be affected. The raindrop icon in the center of the image denotes the location of Fulton Street. Photo credit to NOAA.

Now let’s take a look at Rye. Rye is fortunate enough to be located right on the water and have a beautiful, serene brook flowing through the town. However, these nice features could one day become problematic. According to a simulator from NOAA, if sea levels rise the projected six feet, Rye High School and Playland will be completely underwater. Most of the town won’t be affected, but anywhere near the Long Island Sound and/or Blind Brook will flood.

If sea levels rose six feet, this is how Rye would be affected. Rye High School is hard to see, but it is where the yellow letters are in the middle of the picture. Photo credit to NOAA.

Climate change will affect different places in different ways. In the United States, low-lying coastal areas like Florida and Louisiana will be most threatened by rising sea levels while the West Coast might not be affected at all. And rising sea levels won’t be the only effect of global warming. Other likelihoods include stronger, more frequent storms, severe droughts, crop shortages, increased disease, and ocean acidification. Rising sea levels will also cause coral reef bleaching and a loss of coastal wetlands and estuaries. These will have negative consequences throughout the world.

One reason that people don’t want to accept climate change and act on it is because they are worried that the economy will be negatively impacted. However, the economic costs of not acting on climate change are far worse than acting on it. According to a 2008 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Global warming could cost the United States more than $1.9 trillion each year in hurricane damages, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs by 2100.” So while it’ll cost a lot upfront to protect the country from the impacts of climate change, not doing anything and allowing climate change to happen will be more expensive in the long run.

It’s not too late to reduce the severity of climate change. It’ll still happen, but we have the power to stop it from becoming a worst-case scenario; we haven’t yet reached the tipping point. The first thing we have to do is reduce greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out coal and oil and turn to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. We also need to pass laws to enforce the protection of the environment. And not some uber-radical, financially-unviable proposal like the Green New Deal, but rather something that everyone can get on board with. And this shouldn’t be hard if politicians make it a priority. Eight in ten Americans and two thirds of Republicans believe that climate change is a serious threat (CNN). Instead of the President tweeting that climate change is a hoax every time it snows because he doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate, we need to educate everyone on what climate change really is. We need ten in ten Americans to understand how serious the threat of climate change is.

Climate change is confusing, and even climate scientists don’t have most of the answers. But what we do know is that climate change is happening. The Earth’s average temperature is increasing. Sea levels are rising. The question is just how severe will it be? Do we prepare for the worst- or best-case scenario?

Some links to explore: