Here’s one wall Mexico won’t be paying for. The new Empire Stores retail facility, located inside seven century-old storehouses on the Brooklyn waterfront, has invested in a $1-million-dollar, seven-foot-tall portable flood wall to defend against rising waters.
The next time a Sandy-style flooding event is predicted for the region, 29 crates containing wall panels will be trucked to the site from a local warehouse. Workers will build the wall—all 1,100 feet of it—in four to five hours—and if all goes as planned, the retail stores will “ride out the flood like a tasteful island in a surging sea.”
Made by Norwegian company AquaFence, the L-shaped wall panels are made of laminated plywood, stainless steel, and aluminum. Vinyl webs run between the panels to keep water out. The horizontal foot of the panels will face the river, utilizing the weight of the water to secure it in place.
It should be noted that deployable flood walls are not failsafe—according to Andrew Martin, the acting chief of the risk analysis branch in the regional office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, during Sandy, there were a “large number of failures of these types of protection schemes.”
However, when combined with other strategies (placing mechanical equipment on higher floors, elevating ground levels, etc), the barriers can provide an important layer of defense against destructive stormwaters—something we are bound to see more of in coming years.
Our government may still be arguing over the validity of climate change, but it appears business owners and real estate investors have already come to their conclusion.
These days, it’s our most common refrain at NYER staff meetings: in the era of Trump, state and local-level climate policies are more important than ever.
That’s not to say that federal rules and regulations are irrelevant, or that the damage of having a climate denier in the Oval Office will not be “yuuuge“—they’re not, and it will—but for the next four years, the battle for climate progress will be spearheaded by mayors, governors, state legislators, and activists across our country.
“States have always led the way in regards to creating significant U.S action on climate change,” Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York, told Grist. “The Trump victory will make state climate change efforts even more important.”
New York Leads The Way
New York is well-positioned to be an East Coast climate change leader—and actually has been for quite some time.
Twelve years ago, New York was one of seven Northeast States to sign onto the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI establishes a regional cap on the amount of CO2 pollution that power plants can emit by issuing a limited number of tradable CO2 allowances.
This pioneering program has been extremely successful. Since its launch it has:
Helped cut carbon pollution from power plants by more than 37 percent;
“With this proposal, New York will lower the emissions cap even further and set the precedent for recognizing and taking action against climate change to support the future of communities across the globe,” said Governor Cuomo.
Cuomo has also launched Reforming the Energy Vision, a comprehensive strategy that focuses on clean energy development while also spurring innovation, bringing new investments into the State, and improving consumer choice.
REV includes a slew of tangible, on-the-ground projects, such as:
Cities and local municipalities are also contributing to New York’s climate leadership. Under Mayor de Blasio, New York City has pledged to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050. To reach this goal, the city must eliminate 43 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions: nine million metric tons from power production, seven million metric tons from personal and commercial vehicles, two million metric tons from the disposal of solid waste, and the remaining 25 million metric tons from energy used in buildings.
One of the city’s last remaining salt marshes, a patch of land straddling the Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx, could hold secrets about our changing climate—both what has been and what could be.
Four years ago, a team of scientists began taking core samples here—10-foot-long segments extracted from the earth—and analyzing every inch of the dirt for clues about what was happening in the world at the time the sediment was deposited.
They found that the samples contained more than 1,500 years of detailed climate and environmental history.
The soil told of local pollution, indicating the use of municipal refuse incinerators, which peaked in 1937, and offering clues of events farther afield, such as evidence of the aboveground nuclear weapons tests conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.
It even showed a small peak in the concentration of lead during the years of WWI (when there was an increase in production and use) and a decline during the Great Depression.
But most importantly, the core samples showed the tidal flows and sea level rise. The results were startling.
According to the authors of the resulting report, published in the journal The Holocene, the current rate of sea level rise “is the fastest that NYC has experienced for >1500 years.”
The data showed that since 1821, the seas have risen roughly 1.5 feet, and alarmingly, they are expected to rise by the same amount over just the next 40.
These measurements are consistent with other measurements made in the western North Atlantic, and indicate that we are on a dangerous trajectory.
Again, from The New York Times:
More than $25 billion worth of infrastructure will be under direct threat from flooding through the coming decades, scientists believe, including seven hospitals, 183 hazardous waste sites and the homes of nearly 100,000 people.
So, what do these results tell us? Simple: climate change is happening, sea levels are rising, and New York City needs to be doing more to protect our people and our infrastructure. The clock is ticking.
A few weeks ago, a paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that seemed to show a way to reduce climate change skepticism among political conservatives.
Framing messages around “past comparisons”—that is, comparing the damaged environment of today with a more verdant, pure past—increased conservatives’ pro-environmental feelings more than dire warnings about future scenarios.
Could this be the One Weird Trick to finally convince climate deniers to get on board?
I have to admit, I’m skeptical. For one thing, results in a lab are decidedly not the same as taking action in the real world—there are no consequences or compromises. Also, it’s not particularly surprising to me that past-focused materials, showing actual evidence of something happening, are more persuasive than theoretical predictions of what could possibly take place in the future.
But, that’s not to say the idea doesn’t have merit! Indeed, sometimes seeing evidence of change with your very own eyes is absolutely critical, especially when it revolves around something as hard to envision as climate change.
Capturing Change on Film
Over the holidays, while decompressing from family overload with a nightly Netflix binge, I stumbled upon a documentary that, in my opinion, is most moving, most beautiful visualization of climate change I’ve ever seen.
Chasing Ice is a 2012 film that follows National Geographic photographer James Balog as he embarks upon a personal quest to chronicle the planet’s shrinking glaciers. Traveling with a team of young adventurers across some of the world’s most brutal terrain, Balog deploys an array of time-lapse cameras trained on glaciers in Alaska, Montana, Greenland, and Iceland.
The cameras were designed to withstand extreme conditions—think sub-zero temperatures and 150 mph winds—and to snap about 8,000 frames per year. Balog and his team periodically returned to the cameras to retrieve the footage, and after several years, compiled the hundreds of thousands of images into short “films” that literally show glaciers receding in real time, right before your eyes.
The results are incredibly beautiful and undeniably troubling. Years are compressed into seconds as ancient mountains of ice shrink, collapse, and disappear. Chunks of glacier larger than lower Manhattan break apart, crash into the sea, and float away.
It’s truly haunting, and very compelling, which is exactly what Balog was going for. “I want them [viewers] to be fascinated,” he said, “and to viscerally understand that climate change is real, and this is what it looks like.”
I admit that it’s hard to come away from this film feeling particularly optimistic (especially in our current political climate). But, it’s not hard to come away feeling energized and inspired to take some kind of action. And this may actually be where the film falters a little bit—it fails to provide any kind of next step for viewers.
It’s a small criticism for a big film, and one that’s absolutely recommended, for all the climate change activists—and deniers—in your life. You can find Chasing Ice on Netflix or Amazon.
With President-elect Trump’s inauguration only days away, individual states are preparing to lead the way on responding to climate change – how to prepare for it, and how to reduce its worst effects by cutting carbon emissions.
New York State has already shown that it is prepared to prioritize human health over fossil fuel extraction with its refusal in 2014 to permit high-volume fracking. Now Governor Cuomo is being urged to support what advocates say is the “most ambitious climate legislation in the country” – the Climate and Community Protection Act.
Details on the Bill
The bill, which has already passed the New York State Assembly, has four key objectives:
• Commit New York State to the use of 100% renewable energy by 2050, and 50% by 2030;
• Dedicate 40% or more of climate investments to environmental justice and low income communities;
• Create good local jobs in clean energy, and protections for workers impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels; and
• Use funding to “accelerate a worker and community-centered transition to a sustainable economy.”
“New Yorkers have witnessed firsthand the devastating loss of life, homes and livelihoods caused by Superstorm Sandy and tropical storms Irene and Lee,” said Assemblymember Steve Englebright after the bill passed the Assembly in June. Englebright chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation committee and is the bill’s lead sponsor.
“These extreme weather events are related to climate change…storms, the migration of lobsters to cooler waters, new pests, and threats to public health all point to the undeniable fact that climate change is happening now, not in some distant future,” he continued.
“This legislation includes provisions to both minimize the potential impacts of climate change and address the impacts that cannot be mitigated. It will also advance environmental justice and provide new well-paying jobs in the field of clean energy,” Englebright concluded.
The Climate & Community Protection Act is also being pushed by NY Renews, which describes itself as a multi-sector, statewide coalition of 100 environmental, social, labor and economic justice organizations.
The group’s stated mission is to “move New York State’s economy off of fossil fuels and foster a just transition to renewable energy.”
Trump has stated publicly that there is no scientific consensus on climate change, and that the U.S. should exit the Paris Climate Accords. He has appointed a series of fossil fuel advocates to high-level cabinet posts, including Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil as the new U.S. Secretary of State; former Texas governor Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy; and Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
One of the central arguments used to delay action on climate change is that cutting back on fossil fuel use and extraction will harm the U.S. economy and cause job loss.
NY Renews, which arose from organizing around the 2014 People’s Climate March, argues that New York State will be able to address climate change and socio-economic inequality with the same set of policies.
The coalition says that an economy centered around renewable energy has the potential to revitalize many local communities, and create thousands of new jobs, with the added benefit that jobs in solar, wind and hydro are safer for workers than jobs in the fossil fuel industry.
“This legislation offers tremendous opportunities to preserve and expand our workforce,” said Assemblymember Michele Titus, chair of the State Assembly’s Labor committee. “As our state begins to rely more on renewable energy, the demand for quality skilled jobs will also increase, offering hardworking New York families the job security they need and deserve.”
Like everyone else, I have spent the last two weeks trying to wrap my head around the results of the presidential elections.
Without a doubt, Donald Trump’s election is a huge setback for this country’s efforts to come to grips with our changing climate and threatened natural environment.
Among my colleagues at NYER, there is a range of political opinions, but we are clear on the primacy of science, and everyone’s need for a healthy environment. The vast majority of the scientific community has been sounding an alarm for years that if our planet is to support future generations, we have to change course now, especially when it comes to fossil fuels.
For the time being, this country’s incoming leadership refuses to acknowledge the profound importance, and compromised state, of our environment. In light of that, here are five things that I am personally taking to heart as we head into 2017.
To be clear, these are my opinions, based on what I’ve learned as a reporter and as a person.
I really hope you’ll send us your feedback. And we’ll do our very best to keep covering the environmental issues — like air and water quality, trash management & recycling, energy supply, and climate resiliency — that impact readers in the metro area.
1.) We are not alone — there is a global environmental movement
There is not enough media coverage of the fact that people of all backgrounds are engaged in important environmental work across the world. You can hear their voices and stories from organizations like Greenpeace International, and news outlets like Democracy Now, which reported directly from the U.N. climate talks in Morocco last week.
There are a myriad of important and useful ways we can support — and be a part of — the global environmental movement in the next year.
For starters, citizens of this country can contact incoming members of Congress, and the new administration, to voice their opinion on whether the U.S. should remain an active participant in the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, and its 2015 Paris Agreement.
“Will that accomplish anything?” a friend said to me the other day. Well, the alternative is that we remain silent as the Trump administration tries to pull the U.S. out of the global climate accords. Consider this: 48 nations — including Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the Philippines — promised to “rapidly move to 100% renewable power” at the UN climate summit last week, the Guardian reported.
It’s worth noting that significant public resistance to the Keystone Pipeline paved the way for the Obama administration to squash it, and, yes, this battle may very well be fought again.
(There are more ideas on what we can do below.)
2.) The majority of the American people accept the reality of climate change, and want to address it.
According to a Gallup Poll earlier this year, 65 percent of Americans now say that increases in the earth’s temperature over the last century are primarily attributable to human activities, rather than natural causes.
This represents a “striking” 10-percentage-point increase in the past year and is four points above the previous high of 61 percent in 2007, Gallup reports.
64 percent of U.S. adults told Gallup they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming — the highest reading since 2008.
3.) The facts, and science, will have the last word.
According to an analysis released this month by the World Meteorological Organization, the planet just had its hottest five-year period on record, with 2015 claiming the title of hottest individual year, which will be beat by 2016.
“The effects of climate change have been consistently visible on the global scale since the 1980s,” the WMO reported, pointing to “rising global temperature, both over land and in the ocean; sea-level rise; and the widespread melting of ice. It has increased the risks of extreme events such as heatwaves, drought, record rainfall and damaging floods.”
The WMO singled out Superstorm Sandy as one of several “high-impact” global weather events whose likelihood was increased by climate change.
The October 29th, 2012 storm caused the deaths of 43 New York City residents and created $19 billion in economic damage in the five boroughs. Sandy had a ‘storm tide’ over 14 feet above Mean Low Water at the Battery. Fifty-one square miles of New York City flooded during the storm, 17 percent of the city’s total land mass.
4.) Local action is going to matter — a lot.
Some of this country’s most populous states — like California and New York — are moving ahead now to cut carbon emissions, and transform their energy supplies. How much will it matter? I heard a participant at the U.N. climate talks last week argue that local governments in the U.S. could accomplish half of our carbon reduction commitments, as per the Paris Agreement, without federal support.
The State’s long-term goal is to decrease total carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. The City of New York has similar goals, and says it is looking even further ahead to a 100 percent carbon free future, along with zero waste to landfills by 2030.
Undoubtedly, there are many hard questions to be asked about how, for example, the State is reconfiguring our energy markets, and whether New York City can get to a zero waste future. But, we are arguably on the road.
5.) Building an environmentally sustainable society will be a long, challenging process, but we already knew that.
Building a truly sustainable society — which is not a net drain on the planet — could take generations. That was true before November 8th, and remains so.
And as quixotic as it may seem, we know that it’s worth it. Every child — and every adult — deserves a fighting chance at a decent life, which will not be possible on a degraded planet.
How can we participate? Here are just a few suggestions that show the wide range of actions (personal, and as part of a group) that we can take:
call your senators and congresspeople and tell them what you think about retaining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and the Clean Power Plan.
support candidates at all levels of government who share your views on clean energy, waste reduction, and strong protections for air and water
better yet, run for public office yourself!
get involved with and/or donate funds to national environmental advocacy organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and 350.org; and local groups like Environmental Advocates of New York and the NY League of Conservation Voters.
talk with your friends, neighbors and co-workers about climate change, and share fact-based information
participate in community meetings with local officials about issues like cleaning up polluted waterways and climate resiliency planning. If you live in NYC, these meetings are often sponsored by your local community board
learn about ways to reduce energy and water use, and generate less trash at home
participate in a neighborhood clean-up day
talk with the children in your life about environmental issues
you tell us — what can people do?
Finally, here are some interesting thoughts from Randy Cohen, who used to write The Ethicist column for The New York Times Sunday Magazine. In November, 2008, a Texas woman wrote to Cohen for advice because her neighbors had decided to lease their land for gas drilling, and she was under pressure to join them.
“For environmental reasons, we strongly oppose this drilling,” the woman wrote on behalf of herself and her partner. She asked Cohen if holding out, while all her neighbors went ahead, was a futile, meaningless gesture.
Cohen responded, in part:
“It is understandable that you feel powerless in the face of community-wide sentiment…but you should not sign the lease…
To fail to resist what you see as injustice simply because you fear that you cannot win the fight assures the very defeat you dread.
If nothing else, this is a short term view. Political struggle is long. Even if you lose the first battle, you fight on, and by resisting from the outset, you shape the conditions of that struggle.
The most potent argument for your declining to sign what you regard as a devil’s bargain is this: It violates your own principles…Ethics concerns our actions, not just our arguments.”
And so this next chapter in our history begins. As this post was being finished, President Obama moved to prohibit any new oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, one of his last actions before leaving office.
Whether served up like art at a high-end coffee bar or sloshed into a paper cup at the corner bodega, New Yorkers drink a lot of coffee. In this city, thousands of independent shops go toe-to-toe with Starbucks without flinching, and we even have our very own annual Coffee Festival.
But the city that never sleeps may soon face a caffeine shortage (along with the rest of the world), thanks to our inability to curb carbon emissions. A new report released by the nonprofit Climate Institute indicates that climate change will have a stark effect on the world’s coffee supply.
The study warns that coffee-growing regions could see a 50% drop in the acreage suitable for growing coffee plants, which need a precise combination of temperature and precipitation to thrive.
In addition, the report highlights the way warmer weather could lead to an increase in diseases like coffee rust, and pests like the coffee berry borer.
Major coffee-producing countries in the “bean belt”—including Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Vietnam—are already facing challenges because of shifts in weather patterns.
To make matters worse, more than 120 million people in more than 70 countries rely on the coffee industry for their livelihoods.
“It’s a severe threat,” said Doug Welsh, the vice president of coffee at Peet’s Coffee and a member of the board of World Coffee Research.
Think about that next time you brew up your morning buzz.
For those of us living in New York City, this summer’s overall lack of rain may not have registered in any major way, beyond, say, fewer impulse buys of cheap bodega umbrellas. But for our neighbors to the east in Long Island, or westward in Central New York, things are starting to get a bit…crispy.
More than 80% of New York State is currently facing some level of abnormal dryness or drought this summer, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. At least 10% of the state is experiencing what officials have deemed “extreme drought” conditions, complete with major agricultural losses and widespread water shortages or restrictions.
The cause of New York’s record drought is more complex than a simple lack of rain. Sustained high temperatures this summer, along with a record warm winter (resulting in minimal snowpack), have contributed to the parched conditions.
This past June was the driest in some parts of the state since 1973, and in the parts of the state experiencing “Extreme Drought,” rainfall over the past 6 months has totaled a meager 50 to 60 percent of normal, with most streamflows in the lowest 5th percentile.
Long, sunny days and low humidity have continued to dry out plants and soil, so that even when rain does fall, it evaporates quickly and doesn’t make it deep into the soil, where it can help crops and groundwater supplies.
There hasn’t been a long, soaking rainfall in months, David Thomas, a weather service meteorologist in Buffalo, told New York Upstate. Instead, more scattered thunderstorms have been the main source of moisture for much of the state. Thunderstorms dump a lot of rain quickly, so much of it ends up running off rather than soaking in, he said.
For the first time in 14 years, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a drought watch for all 62 counties.
Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state DEC, made the announcement last Friday.
“While most public water supplies are still generally normal throughout the state, below normal precipitation over the last 9 months, low stream flows, and reduced groundwater levels have prompted the need for this action,” Commissioner Seggos said.
A watch is the first of four levels of state drought advisories (“watch,” “warning,” “emergency” and “disaster”). The hardest hit areas in the state thus far are Western New York and the central Southern Tier, reports the Albany Times Union.
The DEC is not issuing any mandatory water use restrictions at the moment, but said that local public water suppliers “may require such measures.”
Water levels in the reservoirs that supply New York City’s drinking water are currently normal.
There is a “significant precipitation deficit…a lack of rain,” a staff member from the DEC’s Bureau of Water Resource Management told us. Rain shortfalls of 4 to 8 inches have been common over the last three months, the DEC said in a statement.
The dry weather dates back to October 1st — the start of the “water year” — and is beginning to significantly affect other water metrics, the agency said.
Stream flows and groundwater levels are “well below normal” throughout much of the state. Groundwater levels were seasonally worse in June compared to May and they are not expected to improve in the immediate future due to the existing shortfall, the DEC reported.
How You Can Help
The drought watch is expected to continue through the summer. The state has issued water conservation tips that “homeowners can take to voluntarily reduce their water usage”:
Fix dripping and leaking faucets and toilets. A faucet leaking 30 drops per minute wastes 54 gallons a month.
Raise your lawn mower cutting height. Longer grass needs less water.
Water lawns and gardens on alternate mornings instead of every day. Less frequent watering will develop grass with deeper roots, and early morning watering minimizes evaporation.
When using automatic lawn watering systems, override the system in wet weather or use a rain gauge to control when and how much water to use. A fixed watering schedule wastes water. Irrigate only when needed.
Sweep sidewalks and steps rather than hosing them. Eliminating a weekly 5-minute pavement hose-down could save between 625 and 2500 gallons of water per year depending on the flow rate.
More than 3,330 New Yorkers could die each year from climate change-related extreme heat by 2080, warns a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Elisaveta Petkova, the lead author of the study, noted that the number of hot days (when the temperature is at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) in New York City is expected to triple by the year 2080 and beyond, causing death by heat exhaustion, dehydration, or heart and respiratory conditions.
By comparison, between 2000 and 2006, there were about 600 heat-related deaths annually in New York City.
Many of the predicted deaths could be avoided if greenhouse gas emissions were curbed and the city made significant efforts to shield residents from rising temperatures (such as opening more cooling centers, planting more trees, and installing reflective rooftops).
Under their most optimistic scenario, the researchers projected just 167 heat-related deaths per year by the 2080s.
“This difference underlines the magnitude of the potential public health benefit associated with reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere,” they conclude.