Carter B. Horsley and Michele Leight
2001-2 winter has been one of the mildest in the history of the
New York metropolitan region. Blossoms were very early in Central
Park and in mid-April the temperature there soared to a record
96 degrees. Meanwhile, rainfall in March was only half what it
was a year ago and the city's reservoirs are at 50 percent when
they should be at about 90 percent.
The area's seasons were routinely consistent throughout much of
the 20th Century, but for the past 20 years or so there has been
a marked difference in the weather and the alarmist cries of some
environmentalists about "global warming" are increasingly
hard to ignore.
In March, 2002, a large section, about the size of the state of
Rhode Island, of Antarctica broke off.
While climatologists point out that seasonal variations are not
unusual and every grammar school student is aware of past "ice
ages," there can be little doubt that human civilization
on the planet is experiencing a lot of strange and extreme weather
in a relatively short period of time. To their great credit, the
environmentalists have greatly heightened public awareness about
many of the problems and some progress has been made, belatedly,
in dealing with air and water pollution.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade
Center in Lower Manhattan and the Pentagon near Washington, moreover,
greatly heightened public sensitivity about potential catastrophes.
On March 1, 2002, the Columbia Earth Institute of Columbia University
held a one-day conference on "Climate Extremes and Change:
Decision-Making in the New York Metropolitan Region" at which
numerous speakers addressed the findings of a major recent report
entitled the Metro East Coast (MEC) Report Climate Change and
a Global City: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability
and Change." The 210-page report, crammed with many interesting
charts, tables and statistics, might not thrill those who lust
after tsunami and cataclysms and is somewhat reassuring about
New York City's water supply and many health issues, but it does
present some rather sobering scenarios about infrastructure and
environmental concerns as a result of sea level changes and rising
temperatures. Such concerns, the report's authors argue, should
not be ignored or put off and need to be addressed sooner rather
C. Mutter, associate vice provost of the Columbia Earth Institute
and a member of Governor Pataki's Greenhouse Gas and Climate Change
Task Force, told the gathering that while long-range solutions
to the many problems are expensive they will only become more
expensive if they are delayed being implemented. "At some
point there is going to be too much carbon dioxide in the air
and we have to reduce emissions," he said. Furthermore, he
cautioned that the impacts of such changes is felt more keenly
by the poor, "the lower echelon of society," than the
rich and that climate changes will "exaggerate differences
between the rich and poor."
Rosensweig of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies at the
university was a co-leader of the study and a host of the event
and said that the conference was "about scientists working
together with stakeholders to bring climate change into the decision-making
process." "We want New Yorkers to address climate variability
and change in ways that will benefit the present as well as the
future and that other cities can follow," she said. William
Solecki of Montclair State University, a co-leader of the MEC
Assessment added that the study "was designed to be a template
that other cities can follow as well."
Change and a Global City" was part of a national study commissioned
by Congress and carried out by the U. S. Global Change Research
Program, called the National Assessment of the Potential Consequences
of Climate Variability and Change for the United States. It was
the only part of the national assessment focusing on a primarily
urban location, and as several speakers noted because of its size
and coastal location New York's problems are of relevance to many
other urban areas around the nation and the world. The report
was published in July 2001 by the Columbia Earth Institute and
details are available at http://metroeast_climate.ciesin.columbia.edu.
the founding director of the Mayor's Office of Sustainable Design,
told the gathering that "high-performance" buildings
designed with sustainable development in mind can mitigate some
climate changes through masures such as using light colored paving
and roofing to reflect the sun's light. She produced the 1999
City of New York High Performance Building Guidelines that seek
to maximize operational energy savings while minimizing detrimental
environmental impacts of building construction and operation.
A key feature of high-performance buildings is the reduction of
carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emisions by decreasing
energy use. http:.//www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/ddc/highperf.html)
New York State Assemblyman Alexander B. Grannis said that the
private sector and especially the insurance industry need to get
more involved in such studies.
Michael Alderstein, the director of the U. S. National Park Service
told the conference that the country's more than 400 national
parks could provide important research "grounds" for
new studies and encouraged the conference participants to contact
the service about possible studies, adding that "I don't
think the American public is quite up to speed as the persons
in the room" on the urgency of the problems.
M. Crow, executive vice provost and professor of science policy
at Columbia University and executive chair of the Columbia Earth
Institute, urged the conference to recognize that action on these
issues cannot await a full understanding of all the variables.
In June 2002, the New York City Council passed a resolution making
New York a "Climate Protection City" that supports the
initiation of plans that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions
based on principles developed by the International Council for
Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI)( http://www.iclei.org )
The Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University has
received a grant to lead a multi-university study of future scenarios
of global climate change and regional land-use change as drivers
of changing local climate and air quality and it hopes to develop
tools for assesssing urban health risks due to heat stress and
air quality changes. Contact Joyce Rosenthal at firstname.lastname@example.org
for further information.
For information about a two-year study of the hydrologic feasibility
of storm surge bariers to protect the central part of the region
from flooding being conducting by the Marine Sciences Research
Center at Stony Brook University, contact Douglas Hill at email@example.com
The report has three themes: people, place, pulse.
The Metro East Study covers the 31 counties of the New York Metropolitan
Region, an area of about 13,000 square miles with 1,600 cities,
towns and villages in the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut
and a total regional population of about 21.5 million people.
About 30 percent of the region's land area has been "fully
converted to urban uses," the study said, adding that "with
close to 1,500 miles of coastline, the region's development has
been intimately connected to the ocean." In 1950, New York
made up 56.6 percent of the region's 13.9 million people but by
2000 the city's population represented only 37.2 percent of the
region's population of 21.5 million, according to the report,
which also noted that "urban counties lost 307,000 jobs from
1970 to 1995; suburban counties gained 2,018,400."
"Vulnerable habitants in the region have been heavily degraded.
The vast majority of the region's wetlands have been lost. Buffer
areas around wetlands or rivers typically are not present. In
many areas, smaller rivers and streams have been filled, channelized,
or diverted into culverts. Surface water and groundwater supplies,
particularly in the more heavily urbanized areas, have been compromised
and typically exceed federal water pollution standards. In the
region, there are more than 100,000 leaking underground fuel tanks,
spill sites, or former industrial sites included on the federal
governments' register of known or potential toxic sites. Many
are located in lowland locations where coastal wetlands were used
as landfill sites. There are 131 active Superfund hazardous waste
sites in the region. As of 2000, the region maintained 8.3 million
housing units, and current estimates include approximately 2,000
miles of major highway, and 1,250 miles of railway. Much of the
built environment in New York City itself and adjacent older urban
and suburban areas pre-dates 1950"
"The region is highly dynamic.The region is organized around
high-volume inflows as well as outflows and intraregional flows.
As a largely urban site almost all of the food supply has to be
imported into the region, and increasingly much of the solid and
hazardous waste is exported out. In the case of the New York City
water supply fresh water is also brought into the region. Energy
is imported into the region via the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic
"The tremendous infrastructure that has been developed is
now aging, in need of significant redevelopment, inadequate to
handle the current demand, or otherwise under threat. For example,
the regional water supply systems will have to adapt to the changing
patterns of development. The integrity of the New York City water
quality is being challenged by increasing development around its
upstate New York water supply areas, while in northwestern New
Jersey new water supplies need to be developed as populations
in the area grow. The most critical environmental issues for the
region include air and water pollution, and suburban sprawl. The
regional air quality still exceeds federal mandates for several
pollutants. Surface and ground water supplies, and coastal waters
face constant threat. Recent years have seen much of the remaining
open space and farmland present at the distant edges of the region
became sites for significant land speculation and conversion.
These sites include northwestern New Jersey, the farthest eastern
edges of the North and South Forks of Long Island, the lower Hudson
River Valley and southwestern Connecticut."
found that "over the past 100 years, temperature in the region
has warmed nearly 2 F", as compared to a rise of about 0.7F
for the nation as a whole, and there are indications that "the
biophysical and societal impacts of projected climate change will
be primarily negative over the long term." "The impacts
of climate change throughout the region and on its people will
be widespread yet uneven.Substantial uncertainties about climate
change remain, including the rate and magnitude of projected regional
changes...The rate and amount of temperature rise is projected
to increase over the 21st century, due to anthropogenic greenhouse
warming. The global climate models (GCMs) utilized in the U. S.
National assessment of the potential Consequences of Climate Variability
and Change project warming for the New York Metropolitan Region,
ranging from 1.7-3.5 ° F in the 2020s, 2.6-6.5 ° F in
the 2050s, and 4.4-10.2° by the 2080s. In the 2050s, the range
of winter temperature rise is 3.3 to 5.65° F. In the 2050s,
summer temperature rise is projected to range between 2.7 and
7.6 ° F. Global climate models project that the number of
days with the National Weather Service Heat Index (a combined
index of temperature and relative humidity used as a proxy for
the discomfort caused by heat waves) above 90 ° F will increase
from 14 days (1997-1998 base) to a range of 24-40 days in the
2020s, 30 to 62 days in the 2050s, and 40 to 89 days in the 2080s."
The study analyzed sea-level rise and coasts, infrastructure,
wetlands, water supply, public health, energy demand, and institutional
decision-making. The following quotations are from the report.
level has risen 0.09 to 0.15 inches per year in the Metro East
Coast Region over the last 100 years. About half the observed
rise is related to ongoing geologic subsidence following the end
of the last glacial period and about half is relating to the warming
trend of the 20th Century. With projected climate change, sea
level in the MEC Region may rise 4.3-11.7 inches by the 2020s,
6.9 to 23.7 inches by the 2050s, and 9.5 to 42.5 inches by the
2080s. Future sea-level rise would lead to more damaging storm
floods and a marked reduction in the flood return period in coastal
regions. In the MEC Region, the 100-year-flood would have a probability
of occurrence, on average, once in 80 to 43 years by the 2020s,
once in 68 to 19 years in the 2050s, and one in 60 to as often
as every 4 years by the 2080s. Rates of beach erosion would double
at sites within the region by the 2020s, increasing 3 to 6 times
by the 2050s, and 4 to 10 times by the 2080s, relative to the
The report's initial recommendations in this area include limiting
development in high coastal hazard zones, purchase remaining open
coastal space for future recreational needs, and requiring notification
of coastal hazard conditions including sea-level rise, in the
sale or purchase of coastal property.
of the region's low-elevation transportation infrastructure will
be at risk to flooding in the 21st Century.By the end of this
century, for two-thirds of facilities with elevations at or below
10 feet above sea level, flooding may occur at least once every
decade and at some facilities it will occur every few years. While
annualized losses from storms in the region are estimated to be
only $100-300 million per year, losses from a single, devastating
storm may be up to $100 billion, about 10 percent of the almost
$1 trillion gross regional product."
"The region is already in the process of rebuilding its basic
infrastructure at costs approaching about $100 billion per decade.
Therefore, the most cost-effective way to protect the infrastructure
against future coastal storm surge losses would be built into
the capital projects protection against the increased flood potentials.
A coherent policy is needed that should be based on technical
input. Uncertainties exist and will persist. However, these uncertainties
must not be used to justify inaction since it is inevitable that
the losses will accelerate just from the sheer growth of built
and newly exposed assets alone. The most effective mitigation
is to avoid placing new or refurbished assets at low elevations.
This requires an innovative land use plan, zoning enforcement,
and would be best be combined with new engineering codes that
place all critical components at sufficiently high elevations.
The problem of sea-level rise that New York City and the MEC region
face will be shared by coastal cities and populations all around
the U.S. and around the globe, in rich and poor countries alike.
New York City and the surrounding MEC region are in the position
to provide financial and intellectual resources to set a world-class
example for home to prepare for the climate change issue."
of selected salt-marsh islands in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuse
indicate that they have lost roughly 12 percent in area since
1959, with sea-level rise a possible causative factor."
"Given limited potential for retreat inland, the remaining
fringe of coastal wetlands may decline, causing a ripple of other
ecological effects, including the loss of critical bird and aquatic
change projections indicate that the variability of the hydrological
systems in the region will increase, with more frequent droughts
and flood. Current fish populations and other ecosystem functions
linked to watersheds are likely to be affected."
most direct health effect to be associated with warming and more
variable climate is an increase in summer-seasonheat stress morbidity
and mortality, particularly among the elderly poor. Climate change
in the MEC Region will contribute to at least three classes of
indirect health outcomes: incidence of certain vector-borne diseases
may arise; waterborne disease organisms may become more prevalent;
and increased formation of photochemical air pollutants may be
fostered. By the year 2100, asthma-related hospital admissions
are expected to rise slightly."
warming climate will raise the demand for electricity because
the increase in summer cooling outweighs the decrease in winter
needs. Because peak summer electricity loads already far exceed
winter peaks, the electric system will be increasingly stressed
during summer heat waves. The urban heat island effect already
causes cities to be warmer than the surrounding countryside due
to the absorption of heat by buildings during the day and reradiation
at night. Under a warming climate, the urban heat island effect
will increasingly beco`me an issue of regional concern in regard
to energy demand and air quality.The emphasis on adapting to climate
change should be on improved energy efficiency, particularly to
reduce summer peak electricity loads, and enhanced passive cooling
in buildings and communities. Local lines that distribute electricity
to customers need to be upgraded, and the adequacy of transmission
lines to bring more power into the metropolitan area should be
assured. The 'weatherization' program that exists to save energy
costs in housing for low-income people should be extended to provide
summer cooling in urban areas as well as winter heating."
regional Climate Inter-Agency Task Force should be formed to identify
potential climate-related events and conditions (e.g., coastal
infrastructure at risk, disease outbreaks, water supply vulnerabilities)
and proactively propose responses. The task force should also
consider events that would require emergency actions and/or large-scale
The Assessment, the report continued, "illustrates that the
future environmental conditions of the Metro East Coast Region
will be much more dynamic than in the recent past. The environmental
management and responsive strategies that evolved during the 20th
century were based largely on the idea that the ecological and
environmental baselines were static, although ranging within the
conditions of dynamic equilibrium. Local environmental change
was seen as being brought about largely through direct human action.
Global climate change forces a fundamental reassessment of those
assumptions. In the 21st century, the baselines will change and
local decision-makers will have limited ability to control the
face of this transformation. The gases already emitted into the
global atmosphere are projected to cause some degree of warming
and environmental change regardless of the implementation of any
comprehensive policy design to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
(the root cause of projected climate change)."
at the conference included Bruce Swiren, Regional Program Manager
for Hurricane and Earthquake Programs, FEMA Region II, Christopher
Zeppie Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Edward Linky,
Senior Policy Advisor for the US EPA Region 2.