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July 27, 2013

Fossil fuels, freak flooding go hand-in-hand

By Julie Huntsman Guest Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — New York hit a couple of amazing milestones recently. Unfortunately, they weren’t the good kind.

Nine months ago, Superstorm Sandy levied a record amount of destruction on our state. And last month, record rainfall caused rivers to swell to unparalleled levels, flooding dozens of towns and cities in Central and Northern New York and causing millions in damage.

The culprit of the flooding was global warming. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as much when he visited a new firehouse in Keene, rebuilt after Hurricane Irene destroyed it in 2011. But as he toured towns damaged by the effects of global warming, saying they needed to invest in infrastructure to deal with the symptoms of climate change, he failed to mention one of global warming’s biggest and growing contributors: methane and hydraulic fracturing.

New York, under Cuomo’s leadership, now has a unique opportunity to help stop global warming. By banning fracking, in our state we can send a clear message that we are ready to fight climate change head-on, and not just respond to its terrible consequences.

For too long, Cuomo and others have remained silent on fracking’s impact on our climate, leaving the gas industry’s claims unchecked. That’s a dangerous policy, because gas and oil companies like to tout natural gas as a “bridge fuel” between other dirty fuels, such as coal, and greener solutions, such as wind and solar.

Unfortunately, the bridge claim doesn’t hold any water. Fracking would release large quantities of methane gas from wells. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, the comparative effect of methane on global warming is at least 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

Of greater concern, that number is much worse in the shorter term. On a 20-year timescale, the latest science shows that methane is between 79 and 105 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. That’s hardly a bridge to a green future.

Allowing fracking would just create more pain for our state. The earth’s temperature is already above where it should be because of global warming — in May, scientists announced that we’ve hit the highest levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere in three million years — and we’ve already experienced plenty of destruction in New York as a result.

The International Energy Agency has concluded that increased global dependence on natural gas will lead to global warming-induced temperature increases of about 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by 2035. That will mean more floods and pain in the already-battered communities of central and northern New York.

Cuomo is right that we need to invest in infrastructure that will stand up to our inevitably warmer future. But we must also do all we can to stem the rising tide of climate change and limit as much as possible the devastating and costly effects it will bring to our state. As any doctor would note, before a patient can be stabilized, the bleeding must be stopped.

As a governor who watched large swaths of his state destroyed by hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and by ever-increasing rain that causes floods like we experienced last month, he should know better than anyone that something needs to be done to stop global warming.

In addition to expanding his NY Sun initiative and other renewable investments, banning fracking is a critical place to act.

JULIE HUNTSMAN, DVM, is a member of the Otsego Town Board.