Healthy Environment, Strong Communities, Accountable Government

Climate Change Facts

There is growing consensus among the world's scientists that the rising accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is impacting the global climate. Increased greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere are trapping heat on the Earth and warming the earth beyond its normal temperature (1O in the last century), having a range of effects on the global climate. Fossil fuels, which formed millions of years ago over a very long period of time, being burned by humans for electricity and vehicles are 82% of these greenhouse gases.

Two top US climate scientists recently concluded that global warming is definitely a result if human activity. Tom Karl, Director of the National Climatic Data Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist and head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research writing in the journal Science, have stated that global climate change has "exceeded the bounds of natural variability," and that "the likely result is more frequent heat waves, droughts, extreme precipitation events ... wildfires, heat stress, vegetation changes and sea level rise."

Global Effects of Climate Change:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of over 2,500 of the world's climate scientists, is predicting that these impacts may include:

  • elevated global average temperatures with a resulting disruption of natural systems
  • changes in precipitation rates in many regions impacting on water supply and food production
  • increase in the incidence and intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods, blizzards, tornadoes, and droughts
  • rise in sea level impacting on coastal areas and low-lying regions
    The EPA's Global Warming program has similar predictions. See epa.gov/globalwarming.

According to the IPCC, since the beginning of the industrial revolution 250 years ago, carbon dioxide has increased in the atmosphere from about 280 to over 380 ppm and the carbon level has never been higher than 300ppm in the last 420,000 years according to ice core data. Methane has increased by 151% (750 to 1625) and nitrous oxide by 17% (270 to over 310) in that time period.

Our present trend towards deforestation around the globe means that less carbon dioxide is being absorbed.

Other effects:

  • Glaciers are retreating in mountains around the world
  • In the tropical oceans, corals are dying off from warming waters, threatening the biodiversity of the oceans. In 2005 scientists reported that the oceans are becoming more acidic due to excess carbon in the atmosphere.
  • In 2004 NASA researchers (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) indicated that soot particles, primarily from burning diesel fuel, may be reducing the ability of snow and ice to reflect sunlight, contributing to world wide melting of ice and as much as a quarter of observed global warming.
  • In 2005, scientists report that a vast area of Siberian tundra is thawing after 11,000 years and may release millions of tons of greenhosue gases, especially methane.

Potential Effects of Climate Change on Long Island:

  • The EPA states that "IPCC models predict a rise in sea level over the next 100 years… with a most likely case of a rise of 50 centimeters. Such a rise would inundate wetlands and lowlands, accelerate coastal erosion, worsen coastal flooding, threaten coastal structures, raise water tables, and increase salinity of rivers, bays, and aquifers… Total monetary losses caused by a 1 meter rise are estimated to be between $270 and $275 billion, not including future development."
  • According to EPA, global warming could have many impacts on fish and other aquatic species. Wetland loss, salinity changes, and higher temperatures are all likely to affect finfish and shellfish in the coastal zone. The commercial and sport fishing industries are important on Long Island, so such changes would be devastating to this sector of the economy.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency's Publication "Regional Impacts Report," Chapter 8 says: "Global climate change is expected to alter coastal hydrology, the frequency and severity of severe storms, and sea-ice cover… Changing climate generally is increasing the vulnerability of coastal areas to flooding both because higher sea level raises the flood level from a storm of a given severity and because rainstorms are becoming more severe in many areas. It also is possible that hurricanes could become more intense."

Local Contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions:

An inventory compiled by the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) found that, "Suffolk County residents and employees alike are responsible for emitting 25 tons of CO2 per person per year. This is over twice the New York State average, which is 11.8 tons CO2 per capita, and over four times as much as the national average at 5.6 tons of CO2 per capita." An inventory was not done for Nassau, but it is safe to assume that figures might be similar.

There are currently about 3 million people residing on Long Island. As a result, although Long Island has about 1% of the US population, we produce over 4% the total US greenhouse gas emissions. The region is highly dependent on fossil fuels, so reductions in use of these conventional energy sources on Long Island and a move toward alternatives can have a significant impact on the global and local environment.

According to estimates contained in the Citizens Energy Plan released in 2002, there was a 22% increase in power plant electricity production on Long Island during the period between 1995 and 2000, going from 9,352,710 megawatt hours to 11,433, 405 megawatt hours in that time period.

Health Effects of Fossil Fuel Use and Global Warming:

Nassau and Suffolk Counties are designated non-attainment areas for tropospheric ozone under the Federal Clean Air Act which is a cause for concern. In a paper entitled, the Health Effects of Air Pollution On Children, Michael T. Kleinman, Ph.D., writes: "Recent study results suggest that children with asthma are at much greater risk of increased asthma symptoms when they live in communities with higher levels of ozone and particles and participate in three or more competitive sports." (Dept. of Community and Environmental Medicine, University of California, Irvine, 2000.)

The EPA's Global Warming program relates the problem of climate change to various health impacts including asthma due to air pollutants. Long Island has a 7% rate of childhood asthma.
"Global warming may also increase the risk of some infectious diseases. Diseases that are spread by mosquitoes and other insects could become more prevalent if warmer temperatures enabled those insects to become established farther north; such 'vector-borne' diseases include, malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, encephalitis." For example, malaria reemerged on Long Island in 1999.

 

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Advocates for Long Island's Environment