BEAT THE HEAT: COMBATING THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Encore: July 19, 2022

Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the nation, claiming the lives of about 350 New Yorkers every year with Black city residents twice as likely to lose their lives as white New Yorkers. Tonight, we’ll examine the climate solutions that can help save lives as the tristate braces for an especially hot summer and also what’s predicted to be an above average hurricane season. Our go-to expert on the planet, Bill Ulfelder of The Nature Conservancy, is back with the steps we can all take to protect New Yorkers amid our changing climate.

Peril and Promise is an ongoing series of reports on the human impact of, and solutions for, Climate Change. Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO THIS 'METROFOCUS' SPECIAL REPORT.

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

THIS SUMMER IS EXPECTED TO BE ESPECIALLY HOT, AND WHILE HEAT WAVES POSE A THREAT TO EVERYONE, SOME NEW YORKERS ARE MORE AT RISK TO THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE THAN OTHERS.

HEAT KILLS ABOUT 350 CITY RESIDENTS EACH YEAR WORK BLACK NEW YORKERS MORE THAN TWICE AS LIKELY TO DIE THAN WHITE RESIDENTS.

NEW YORK IS ALSO ENTERING HURRICANE SEASON, AND THOUGH IT'S BEEN TEN YEARS SINCE SUPERSTORM SANDY DEVASTATED THE REGION, THE DAMAGE CAUSED BY THAT STORM AND OTHERS SINCE IS STILL WITH US.

SO FOR MUCH MORE, LET'S WELCOME BACK OUR GO-TO EXPERT ON THE PLANET, BILL OLFELDER.

HE JOINS US AS PART OF OUR ONGOING INITIATIVE, REPORTING ON THE HUMAN STORIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS SOLUTIONS.

BILL, IT'S GREAT TO HAVE YOU BACK ON THE SHOW.

THANKS, JENNA.

I ALWAYS APPRECIATE THE OPPORTUNITY TO TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE IN NEW YORK WITH YOU, SO THANKS.

WELL, SO, FIRST, LET'S START WITH THE ISSUE THAT I THINK MOST PEOPLE ARE PROBABLY GOING TO START NOTICING, BECAUSE OF COURSE FOR WHERE NEW YORK CITY IS SITUATED.

IT'S THE HEAT AND HUMIDITY, AND THOSE TWO THINGS ARE GOING TO START RISING SIGNIFICANTLY.

THAT'S RIGHT, AND YOU MENTIONED THE STATISTIC OF HOW MANY HUNDRED OF NEW YORKERS DIE EACH YEAR FROM HEATSTROKE AND HEAT RELATED ILLNESSES, AND THIS IS ONLY GOING TO GET WORSE.

AS I SAY, THE THING WE DON'T LOVE ABOUT NEW YORK, HEAT AND MOISTURE, THESE ARE EXACTLY THE THINGS CLIMATE CHANGE IS BRINGING SOME WE'RE EXPECTING TO SEE -- THE SCIENCE TELLS US WE'RE GOING TO GO FROM AN AVERAGE OF ABOUT TWO HEAT WAVES A YEAR PROBABLY TO SOMETHING LIKE SEVEN BY 2050.

THAT'S OVER 60 DAYS OF 90 PLUS DEGREES.

IMAGINE ALL OF JULY AND AUGUST BEING 90 PLUS DEGREES.

IT'S KIND OF MISERABLE, AND NOT JUST THAT, IT'S A KILLER.

A SILENT KILLER, NUMBER ONE WEATHER RELATED KILLER IN THE UNITED STATES.

YOU MENTIONED SOMETHING, AND IT'S AN ISSUE I PERSONALLY STRUGGLE WITH, BUT I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE STRUGGLE WITH WITH THE ISSUE OF CLIMATE CHANGE, AND THAT IS THAT IT'S ALL GOING TO GET WORSE.

WHEN IT COMES TO DEALING WITH THESE HEAT WAVES IN NEW YORK, ARE THERE THINGS THAT ARE -- SOME SORT OF TACTICS OR SOMETHING THAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP EASE THE SUFFERING THAT WE KNOW IS COMING?

RIGHT.

WELSH THIS IS A REALLY IMPORTANT POINT, AND I THINK THERE'S TWO THINGS.

I MEAN, ONE IS IT IS GOING TO GET WORSE.

I MEAN, WE HAVE BEEN EMITTING CARBON POLLUTION LONG ENOUGH THAT THERE IS MORE WORSE STUFF COMING THAT'S JUST BUILT INTO THE SYSTEM.

I MEAN, EVEN IF WE STOPPED EMITTING ALL CARBON POLLUTION TODAY IT WOULD STILL GET WORSE FOR A PERIOD OF TIME.

THEN OF COURSE THE QUESTION IS, ARE WE TAKING THE STEPS TO REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF CARBON POLLUTION GOING FORWARD?

THAT'S SOMETHING WE CONSTANTLY HAVE TO BE PAYING ATTENTION TO.

I MEAN, A PIECE OF, I GUESS WE'LL CALL IT GOOD NEWS, IS THERE ARE SOME SIMPLE, WE'LL CALL THEM ROBUST AND ELEGANT SOLUTIONS TO HEAT.

THE NUMBER ONE THING WE AT THE NATURE CONSERVANCY TALK ABOUT, WE'RE WORKING WITH A BIG COALITION, IS THE TREES AND THE POWER OF TREES IN THE CITY TO SOME NEIGHBORHOODS AS MUCH AS 20 DEGREES.

PLUS, YOU KNOW, THEY GIVE US OXYGEN, CLEAN AIR TO BREATHE, THEY CAPTURE CARBON, CLEAN OUR WATER, PROVIDE WILDLIFE HABITAT.

THEY IMPROVE PROPERTY VALUE.

SO JUST INCREASING THE NUMBER OF TREES AND THE FOREST CANOPY COVER IN THE CITY WILL HAVE A DRAMATIC POSITIVE IMPACT ON REDUCING THE IMPACTS OF HEAT ON NEW YORKERS.

WHEN YOU SAY INCREASING THE NUMBER OF CANOPY TREES -- BECAUSE PERHAPS A PERSON COULD SAY, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

THIS CITY IS FULL OF PARKS.

CENTRAL PARK'S HUGE, AND MANHATTAN ALONE.

WHY IS THAT NOT GOOD ENOUGH?

RIGHT, WELL, WE NEED MORE.

THAT'S THE FIRST THING.

AND THE TREES AND PARKS ARE VERY INEQUITABLY DISTRIBUTED ACROSS THE CITY.

IF YOU LOOKED AT NEW YORK.

IF YOU WERE A BIRD OR SATELLITE AND LOOKING DOWN AND YOU SEE THE CITY, THERE'S ABOUT 22% OF THE CITY WOULD BE COVERED IN TREES DURING, WE'LL CALL IT, LIKE, THE SUMMER TIME WHEN THEY'RE FULLY LEAFED OUT.

WHAT THE ANALYSIS OF NATURE CONSERVANCY AND OUR PARTNERS IS THERE'S A REAL OPPORTUNITY AND NEED TO ADD ABOUT 2 MILLION TREES TO THE CANOPY, WHICH WOULD GROW IT FROM 22% COVERAGE OF THE CITY TO 30% COVERAGE.

BUT WHAT WE REALLY HAVE TO DO IS PUT THAT IN NEIGHBORHOODS THAT HAVE VERY FEW TREES.

SO YOU'RE RIGHT.

LIKE, YOU THINK OF CENTRAL PARK.

I LIVE NEAR COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.

THESE ARE THE MOST TREED SECTIONS OF NEW YORK CITY.

THEY'RE ALREADY ALMOST AT 30%. BUT IF YOU THINK OF HUNT'S ISLAND, JAMAICA QUEENS, NORTH SHORE OF STATEN ISLAND, THESE ARE TREES THAT HAVE SINGLE DIGIT PERCENTAGES OF TREE CANOPY WHERE THEY ARE.

THAT'S REALLY WHERE WE NEED TO BE FOCUSING THE INVESTMENT IN THE YEARS AHEAD IS MAKING SURE THEY GET MORE TREES, THEY GET MORE PARKS.

OF COURSE, AND AS YOU LISTED OFF THOSE NEIGHBORHOODS, ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS THAT CAME TO MIND IS PEOPLE OF COLOR AND THE HOUSING DISPARITY THAT HAS PLAGUED THE CITY FOR GENERATIONS.

EXACTLY.

I MEAN, THE REASON -- THE LACK OF TREES IN THESE NEIGHBORHOODS IS SYMPTOMATIC OF HISTORIC POLICIES, ZONINGS, ET CETERA, WHICH HAVE DISADVANTAGED COMMUNITIES OF COLOR AND LOWER INCOME COMMUNITIES.

THINGS LIKE RED LINING WHERE, THOSE NEIGHBORHOODS WERE NOT ABLE TO HAVE THE SAME ACCESS TO MORTGAGE LOANS TO BE ABLE TO INVEST IN HOMES, TO BUY PROPERTIES, AND THAT HAS JUST ALL ADDED UP OVER TIME, AND SO WHAT WE REALLY NEED TO THINK ABOUT IS, HOW DO WE MAKE INVEST INVESTMENTS TODAY THAT GIVE THEM MORE EQUITABLE ACCESS TO THE URBAN FOREST, TO PARKS THAT THEY TOO HAVE PARKS TEN MINUTES WITHIN THEIR FRONT DOOR WHERE THEY CAN COOL OFF AND FEEL ALL THE BENEFITS NATURE PROVIDES.

IN ADDITION TO BEING ABLE TO GO OUTSIDE AND HAVE TREES AND AS YOU WERE SAYING, CLEANER AIR, ET CETERA, THERE'S ALSO THE ISSUE OF HOW YOU'RE ABLE TO SURVIVE THE SUMMER IN YOUR APARTMENT.

A LOT OF THE NEW BUILDINGS, THIS WINDOWS ARE CLOSED BECAUSE THEY'RE CLIMATE CONTROLLED.

BUT SAY YOU'RE IN A NEW BUILDING A WALKUP OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT, IS THERE ENOUGH EQUITY WHEN IT COMES TO AIR-CONDITIONING?

NO.

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

AND AIR-CONDITIONING, IT'S A TRICKY CRAZY THING, BECAUSE ON THE ONE HAND WE NEED MORE AIR CONDITIONERS.

WE'VE TALKED ABOUT THE NUMBER OF HEAT WAVES THAT ARE COMING, THE NUMBER OF DAYS, AND HEAT REALLY DOES TEND TO MAKE ILL AND EVEN KILL YOUNGER PEOPLE, OLDER PEOPLE, PEOPLE WITH PREEXISTING CONDITIONS, AND PEOPLE WITH FEWER RESOURCES.

BUT THE THING ABOUT AIR CONDITIONERS IS THEY SPEW OUT HOT AIR.

LIKE, AS THEY SCHOOL INDOOR SPACES.

SO WHAT YOU DO IS YOU GET IN REALLY BAD FEEDBACK LOOP WHERE ALREADY HOT NEIGHBORHOODS.

SO IN THE LONG RUN WHAT WE NEED TO BE THINKING ABOUT IS HOW DO WE TAKE ALL THE STEPS OF ADDING TREES -- WE'RE GOING TO NEED AIR CONDITIONERS.

IT'S PART OF WHAT WE NEED HERE, BUT ALSO, LIKE, COOLING CENTERS.

THERE WAS A RECENT ARTICLE TALKING ABOUT THE ROLE LIBRARIES PLAY IN PEOPLE'S LIVES AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO GO TO A LOCAL LIBRARY AND COOL OFF THERE.

ANOTHER THING WE DON'T WANT TO OVERLOOK IS IT'S SO IMPORTANT IN TERMS OF CLIMATE CHANGE, CLIMATE RESILIENCE AND NATURAL DISASTERS, WHETHER THAT'S HEAT WAVES, BIG RAIN BOMBS, HURRICANES, IS THE COHESION OF COMMUNITIES.

AND THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT.

RESILIENCE IS FAR BETTER.

PEOPLE FAIR BETTER THROUGH NATURAL DISASTERS WHEN THEY'RE LOOKING AFTER EACH OTHER.

AND SO STEPS WE CAN TAKE, IF WE'RE LOOKING OUT FOR OUR NEIGHBORS, CHECKING IN ON THEM.

IF YOU HAVE AN OLDER NEIGHBOR, A NEIGHBOR WITH PREEXISTING CONDITIONS, MAKING SURE THEY'RE OKAY, THAT GOES A LONG WAY TO FEWER PEOPLE GETTING SICK AND MORE PEOPLE SURVIVING THE EFFECTS OF A POWERFUL HEAT WAVE.

SO TOGETHER.

AND I THINK THAT'S TRUE IN SO MANY DIFFERENT SITUATIONS.

BUT IS THAT JUST A MATTER OF MAKING SURE PEOPLE HAVE ENOUGH WATER TO HYDRATE, GETTING INTO COOLING CENTERS?

LIKE, IS IT JUST, HEY, ARE YOU OKAY?

KIND OF CHECKING IN?

OR IS THERE AN EXTRA STEP BEYOND THAT?

I THINK IT'S EVERYTHING YOU JUST DESCRIBED.

DEFINITELY CHECKING IN ON PEOPLE.

BRINGING THEM COOL WATER IF THEY DON'T HAVE IT.

SOME PEOPLE, IF THEY'RE GROCERY SHOPPING DAY-TO-DAY AND IT'S, LETS SAY, 100 DEGREES AND HIGH HUMIDITY, THEY MAY NOT BE ABLE TO MAKE THAT TRIP.

IT'S JUST ABOUT CARING FOR NEIGHBORS.

I LOVE YOUR POINT, WE JUST KIND OF NEED THIS MORE ALL ACROSS THE CITY AND COUNTRY THESE DAYS THAT WE'RE LOOKING OUT AND CHECKING IN ON EACH OTHER AND SEEING WHAT'S NEEDED AND RESPONDING TO THAT.

BUT IT MAY BE TAKING A NEIGHBOR TO A COOLING SENT OTHER OR TAKING THEM SOMEWHERE WHERE THEY CAN COOL OFF IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO FAIR AND GET THROUGH A HEAT WAVE, FOR EXAMPLE.

WELL, SPEAKING OF GETTING THROUGH A HEAT WAVE, THERE'S ALSO THE ADDITIONAL CHALLENGE, AS I MENTIONED IN THE INTRO, OF HURRICANE SEASON, WHICH WE UNDERSTAND IS SUPPOSED TO BE AN INCREDIBLY ACTIVE ONE THIS YEAR.

I THINK THAT'S THE KIND OF NEWS THAT'S GOING TO GIVE ANYONE WHO LIVES ALONG THE COAST A LEVEL OF ANXIETY.

YEAH, IT'S -- AND YOU MENTIONED THIS IN YOUR OPEN.

YOU KNOW, NOAA IS PREDICTING A MORE SEVERE HURRICANE SEASON THIS YEAR.

WE SHOULD JUST GET USED TO THAT.

ALL THE CLIMATE MODELS SAY THE EXPECTATION IS HURRICANE SEASON IS GROWING.

WE'RE SEEING HURRICANES EARLIER IN THE SEASON.

WE'RE SEEING HURRICANES LATER IN THE SEASON.

IT'S JUST LIKE WILDFIRES OUT WEST.

THERE'S ALMOST NO WILDFIRE SEASON ANYMORE.

THEY'RE JUST COMING ALL THE TIME.

HURRICANES WON'T COME YEAR ROUND, BUT THE SEASON'S LONGER AND THEY'RE GETTING MORE INTENSE.

THIS IS THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF HURRICANE SANDY, AND THERE ARE THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING.

THERE ARE INVESTMENTS BEING MADE AROUND THE CITY, AND WE'RE SEEING CHANGE, BUT WE NEED TO PICK UP THE PACE.

WE NEED TO DO MORE.

SO BACK TO THE URBAN FOREST AND THE TREE CANOPY, YOU KNOW, TO ADD THOSE 2 MILLION TREES, THAT'S ABOUT A BILLION DOLLAR INVESTMENT.

THE GOAL IS TO GET TO 30% CANOPY COVER BY 2035.

WE NEED TO BE MAKING THE INVESTMENTS NOW AS A CITY IN ORDER TO WITHSTAND THE EFFECTS OF THESE HEAT WAVES AND HURRICANES THAT ARE ALL COMING IN OUR FUTURE.

OF COURSE, AND WHAT ABOUT ALSO THE BERMS THAT WERE TALKED ABOUT SO MUCH AFTER SANDY?

BECAUSE OF COURSE THERE'S THE WIND AND THE RAIN, BUT IT'S REALLY THE SEA SURGE FROM A HURRICANE THAT'S REALLY THE PROBLEM.

WELL, IT'S ACTUALLY ALL OF THE ABOVE.

I MEAN, THIS IS THE THING, IN A CLIMATE CHANGING WORLD.

WE HAD HENRI AND IDA LAST AUGUST THAT DROPPED RECORD BREAKING RAINFALL IN A WEEK, AND THAT ALL CAME STRAIGHT FROM THE SKY.

YOUR POINT IS A GOOD ONE.

HURRICANE SANDY, WHICH WAS ABOUT THE TIDES AND WIND AND CURRENTS, AND IT JUST PUSHED THAT MASSIVE VOLUME OF WATER INTO THE CITY.

AND IT'S TOUGH.

I'M GOING TO BE HONEST, THERE ARE GOING TO BE TRADEOFFS.

IT'S NOT -- THE PATH TO MITIGATING CLIMATE CHANGE AND BETTER ADAPTING IS NOT GOING TO BE EASY.

WE HAVE TO BE VERY COMMITTED.

AND THERE WILL BE TRADEOFFS.

I WAS JUST RIDING MY BACK LAST WEEKEND ALONG THAT EAST SIDE AND STARTING TO SEE THE BEGINNINGS OF THE BERM CONSTRUCTION, AND IT'S VERY DIVIDED.

SOME PEOPLE ARE VERY EXCITED AND APPRECIATIVE THAT'S COMING AND SOME PEOPLE ARE REALLY UPSET.

I THINK WHAT WE NEED IS A ROBUST PROCESS TO ALLOW THE VOICES AND BEST IDEAS TO GET IN THERE, BUT WE'RE NOT -- UNFORTUNATELY WE'RE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY ALL THE TIME AS WE MAKE TOUGH CHOICES TO PROMOTE THE RESILIENCE IN THIS CITY, WHICH WE SO DESPERATELY NEED.

BILL, WE'VE GOT ABOUT 30 SECONDS LEFT.

FOLLOWING THE DECISIONS THAT OUR GOVERNMENT AT FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL LEVEL ARE MAKING BUT WHAT ARE SOME OF THE INDIVIDUAL THINGS WE CAN EACH BE DOING TO ENSURE WE HAVE A HEALTHY CITY IN.

NUMBER ONE IS VOTE.

WE'VE GOT A CRAZY PRIMARY SEASON COMING UP IN NEW YORK, BUT WHEN ALL THAT DUST SETTLES IN NOVEMBER ON ELECTION DAY, THERE IS A $4.2 BILLION BOND ACT, THE CLEAN WATER, CLEAN AIR, GREEN JOBS BOND ACT.

WE NEED THAT.

EVERYBODY SHOULD FLIP THEIR BALLOT OVER AND VOTE YES ON THAT.

AND THEN THE OTHER THING, TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE WITH YOUR NEIGHBORS, WITH YOUR FAMILY.

WHAT ARE THE THINGS YOU CARE ABOUT?

WHAT ARE THE STEPS WE CAN ALL BE MAKING AND BE READY THE DO YOUR PART IN MAKING THAT HAPPEN?

LASTLY, KEEP THE THINGS IN YOUR DAILY LIFE, LIKE RIDING PUBLIC TRANSIT, COMPOST -- ALL THESE LITTLE THINGS THAT ADD UP TO MARKET SIGNALS.

BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY, NEW YORK NEEDS A MASSIVE CAPITAL INVESTMENT IN CLIMATE MITIGATION, AND THE BOND ACT WILL BRING THAT, SO I ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO VOTE YES ON ELECTION DAY FOR THE BOND ACT.

ALL RIGHT, WELL, ON THAT NOTE WE'RE GOING TO LEAVE IT.

THANK YOU, BILL OLFELDER.

BILL IS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IN NEW YORK.

BILL, ALWAYS GREAT TO TALK TO YOU.

THANKS, JANA.

IT'S SUCH AN IMPORTANT TOPIC AND I APPRECIATE THE OPPORTUNITY.

ABSOLUTELY.

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