With representatives from the world’s countries gathered in Paris to forge a plan to slow global warming, the issue of climate change can feel like a world away. For New Yorkers at least, a Columbia University climate scientist says global warming is just as much as a local issue as it is a global one.
Dr. Radley Horton says events like Superstorm Sandy show how climate change can impact us here in the tri-state area.
“So basically if we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, some of the biggest concerns are rising sea levels, making coastal flood events like we saw during Sandy much more common and more serious when they happen,” said Dr. Radley Horton, who is also the principal investigator at the Northeast Climate Science Center.
When Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard three years ago, the storm surge that it brought with it put 51 square miles of New York City under water. That’s 17 percent of the city’s land mass, according to a local government report.
Horton says if we don’t significantly curb our carbon emissions, this kind of coastal flooding that should happen once a century could happen every two decades.
Heat waves could also become more frequent, he said.
“We could see by 2050 about two-and-a-half times as many days over 90,” Horton said.
The extra days would add pressure to the electrical grid and increase death rates among vulnerable populations, he added.
Data collected by WNYC shows temperatures reached 90 degrees or above in New York City during 19 days this year as of Sept. 9. That’s compared to eight days in 2014, but fewer than the 37 days in 2010 the mercury rose that high.
To combat the rise in global temperatures and sea levels, Horton and other climate change experts say nations need to slash their greenhouse gas emissions by significantly reducing the burning of fossil fuels. However some conservatives argue this would hurt states whose economies rely on drilling for and mining those materials.
But Horton claims not acting can produce similar effects.
“So I think part of the issue is helping to show the dangers associated with not reducing our emissions, that that really is something that will have huge economic impacts, and that really we need to prepare for that,” he said.
Horton says there are steps individuals can take to reduce their own green house gas emissions, such as utilizing public transportation more often, taking fewer flights, switching to renewable energy sources when possible and even consuming less meat. (“Meat burns a lot of fossil fuels in the process,” Horton said.)
But to significantly reduce the global carbon emissions will require a world-wide effort, he said, which is why he’s keeping a close eye on the COP21 summit in Paris that due to wrap up Friday. At last update via the Los Angeles Times, a second draft agreement was released Wednesday but some negotiations could run over the Dec. 11 deadline.
Horton says the hope is that we can find a way to keep global warming and sea level rise at a rate that humans can adapt to.
“The further that we push that climate system by adding greenhouse gases beyond what we’ve experienced in the past, the bigger the risk of scary surprises,” he said.