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Editorial: The climate challenge

It’s the kind of resistance that should have been expected. Change is often difficult, even when it is urgent. So it is as the country begins the crucial task of overcoming its dependence on fossil fuels and adopting clean sources of energy.

That’s where the work of moving ahead with change begins: accepting the fact that a warming climate is a threat to the planet and that the use of fossil fuels is a main culprit.

That the Earth is warming is beyond dispute. The change is measurable, as ice caps melt, oceans warm and sea levels rise, even faster than predicted only a few years ago. It makes itself known in storms that have grown more frequent and more ferocious. It is as obvious is the bloated levels of the five Great Lakes and the flooding that threatens property owners along their shorelines, especially on the New York side of Lake Ontario. It’s evident in the fires that consume thousands of acres in California and that threaten Australia’s koala bears with catastrophic loss of habitat. This is happening.

The trends are ominous. The United Nations reported on Monday that global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, Unless that trajectory changes, the cost may be counted in acidic oceans, inundated coastal cities – this month, it was Venice – and, in some places, unbearable heat.

The deniers

There are those who continue to insist either that no evidence of a warming climate exists or that, if it does exist, it unrelated to human activity. To them, this is simply the kind of natural change that has influenced the planet’s climate over its eons, regardless of the conclusions of those eggheaded scientists who insist otherwise. But these deniers seem to believe this mainly because they want to believe it. They reject all evidence with a wave of a hand and the certainty of their own uninformed beliefs.

Scientists answer those misconceptions. They note, for example, that the way the oceans are warming rules out natural causes and points to greenhouse gases.

What is more, even experts within the Trump administration have concluded that climate change is real and stems from human activity. It is important to continue working to persuade those skeptics, but it is more important to act – and action is underway as elements within the country, including the State of New York, work to harness energy from the sun, the wind and other sources.

It’s a start, but action, of course, produces reaction. Much of it is predictable, which isn’t to say that objections are always illegitimate. But it is important to note that some people will object to nearby solar farms and wind turbines as surely as anyone in the past would have resisted living next to a coal mine or a power plant. It doesn’t mean those projects are unneeded.

Finding compromise

People are still people. Their interests need to be consulted and, where possible, accommodated. One way might be to identify the locations where wind or solar farms can do the most good while creating the least disruption. But their objections can’t be the reason to stop the work of producing energy through such sources.

It’s also important to understand that children who grow up with these installations will find them no more intrusive than today’s adults find telephone poles and transmission lines. They might even come to appreciate that adults today cared about the world they will inherit.

Other objections are more practical. Opponents of the proposed wind farm in Somerset and Yates say that Western New York already produces all the energy it can use and that the state’s old and insufficient power transmission infrastructure is incapable of delivering power from this part of New York to the downstate areas that especially need it.

That’s a reason to improve transmission, which needs to be done. But it’s not a reason to halt the work of honing and deploying the technology that is needed to lead the world toward a safer, more efficient energy future. And whether the region has sufficient energy already is a different question from how that energy is produced and what changes are necessary for a sustainable future.

A big reach

New York has set an ambitious, nation-leading goal to wean itself off of carbon-producing energy sources. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, passed in June, requires 70% of electricity used in the state to come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro by 2030, and 100% by 2040. It also sets a goal of eliminating 85% of greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s entire economy within 30 years. And it bases that reduction not on current levels, but on a 1990 baseline.

A top official with the Business Council of New York State said the act puts the state in “uncharted territory,” which it surely does. But so does a changing climate. The plan has plenty of critics who worry about the state’s ability to meet those goals without undermining the economy. It’s a legitimate concern, but there is more than that to worry about.

Goals aren’t always met, of course, and it won’t be surprising if the state falls short of this one, so formidable are its requirements. But it offers a target and a way to focus attention and effort, just as President Kennedy did in setting a goal of putting Americans on the moon.

That’s what New York and the rest of the country need as Americans confront both the catastrophic risks of doing too little and the related challenges posed by those who find reason to do nothing.

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