By Harper Bishop and Clarke Gocker
A recent Buffalo News article on the local climate may have left readers with an unduly rosy outlook. Climate change is already hurting our region and, unless we make fast, large-scale changes in public policy, the impacts on Western New Yorkers will be devastating.
By 2100, temperatures in Western New York are projected to rise between 4.6 and 13.8 degrees. Increased heat will cause deaths and illnesses, especially in Northern cities where many residents lack air conditioning. During the 1995 heat wave in Chicago, for example, between 600 and 749 people died.
Increased heat leads to worse air quality. Under a “business as usual” climate warming scenario, we will have four times as many poor air quality days by 2070-2099, causing more hospitalizations and deaths from asthma, heart disease and other conditions.
We are particularly vulnerable here: of more than 1,600 households surveyed on Buffalo’s East and West sides, 35 percent reported at least one case of chronic respiratory illness. Rates of heart disease are 33 percent higher in Erie County than in the nation.
Extreme weather events will increase. Ice cover on the Great Lakes has decreased 71 percent since 1973, leading to an increase in lake-effect snow.
Already, precipitation from extremely heavy storms has surged 70 percent since 1958. To visualize the impacts of these lake-effect storms, Buffalo residents need only remember the October storm of 2006, which cost over $130 million in immediate cleanup costs and still more in lost productivity. More recently, the “Snowvember” storm of 2014 killed at least 14 people in Buffalo.
Climate change will harm key natural resources – most importantly, Lake Erie. Increased flooding raises pollution levels, while warmer water temperatures will lead to more invasive species, more algae blooms and declining beach health.
In addition, Buffalo depends on state, national and international economies. The city receives almost 40 percent of its annual revenue from state aid, and the budget depends on New York City – where the sea level is expected to rise 22 to 50 inches by 2100, with major floods occurring up to 19 times more often.
Buffalo will not thrive if New York is getting swallowed by the sea. More broadly, we will not thrive if the world is made more dangerous or even uninhabitable by runaway climate change.
As long as we cannot rely on the federal government to act, it is up to New York to lead the way. We call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support legislation to invest in clean energy solutions and hold corporate polluters accountable for the harm they’re doing to our air, water and climate.
To learn more and to take action, Buffalonians can join local coalitions such as the Crossroads Collective that are fighting for climate justice right here, right now.
Harper Bishop and Clarke Gocker are co-coordinators of Crossroads Collective and members of N.Y. Renews.