Joe Mahoney

Joe Mahoney

Sorry to be a buzzkill at this glorious time when peak fall foliage infuses our lives with its vibrant palette of color across the upstate landscape.

But all my reporting indicates New York is in the crosshairs of global climate change.

To be sure, it would be impossible to find an acre of land on this planet that isn’t impacted by rising temperatures, more pronounced droughts and elevated sea levels.

The forecasts from scientists who study emerging patterns suggest New York is on its way to much wetter weather. But higher rainfall totals won’t necessarily mean an end to droughts. In fact, the disruption of weather patterns has given rise to concerns the droughts will run longer, on average, than they had.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply wish it all away? Just wave a magic wand, let good old Mother Nature heal the wounds humanity has inflicted on this planet and leave our fate to serendipity.

We’re seeing the effects already in New York with the decline in certain species of birds and with ongoing flooding threats in the Niagara Region, the North Country, the Mohawk River Valley, the Hudson River Valley, the Leatherstocking Region and the western Catskills bracketing Oneonta.

Also potentially in the cards for New York, according to meteorologists, is the distinct threat of an increase in the frequency or tornadoes and hurricanes.

To its credit, the New York State Association of Counties has not turned a blind eye to the ominous trends. Last year, NYSAC assembled a Climate Leadership Committee to get the ball rolling for information sharing, so that emergency services leaders, public health administrators, transportation leaders and the heads of other agencies can work together in gearing up for the challenges ahead.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money has been invested in bridges, roads, water treatment plants and other facilities. This infrastructure will need to be protected from devastating floods and punishing winds.

This is all very serious business. Moody’s Investors Service has signaled that when it issues credit ratings for municipal governments that have experienced hurricanes and other disasters it examines what they are doing to prepare for future such events. For lenders, climate change has become a risk factor.

In July, a trade publication called Insurance Journal reported climate change is presenting “high risk exposure” to insurers and their policyholders on many fronts.

Memo to client change deniers: No, that article was not penned by Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish environmental activist.

Among documents that came my way in recent days was a note from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which manages the upstate watershed region that supplies drinking water to the 9 million residents of New York City, the nation’s most populous municipality.

It noted that a renowned hydrologist, Dave Rosgen, will speak at Belleayre Mountain on Oct. 21, on the importance of making river communities resilient to climate change.

We have hundreds of rivers and streams throughout upstate New York, and they all need to be managed. And the challenges that come with climate change are going to make this work even more important.

Meanwhile, in Kingston, the DEP has a team of scientists now working on what is the largest climate change study being carried out by any water utility in the country, according to Adam Bosch, the agency’s communications director.

There are concerns bridges that held up to major storm surges 50 or 100 years ago may not be so resilient when storms become even more intense in the years ahead, Bosch explained.

“The signs indicate that things are going to get wetter in the Northeast, and that precipitation is going to come in fewer but larger storms,” he said.

Bird and insect populations are already taking a hit from climate change. The National Audubon Society sounded an alarm Oct. 10, declaring that if global temperatures rise by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, America’s birds will be threatened with extinction.

Andy Mason of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society told me Bicknell’s Thrush, a small bird that inhabits mountaintop regions, is already severely threatened in New York and it is being replaced in its habitat by other species, a phenomenon linked to climate change.

For some upstate regions, bird-watching is an activity that helps drive tourism. More “heads in beds” stimulates local economies, the hospitality industry tells us.

So if the birds go away, tourism will drop, and the effect will be much greater than a dip in the sale of binoculars.

Climate change is here. Now what are we going to do about this emergency?

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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