Extreme Flooding, Deadly Wildfires, and Climate Change

By Peter Aronson

With almost weekly weather events demonstrating that climate change is impacting our lives in a dangerous and sometimes life-threatening way, the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) is calling on our elected officials and everyday citizens to take action to cut greenhouse gasses.

On September 29, more rain fell in three hours in parts of New York City than normally falls in a month. Streets, cars and the city’s subway system were inundated by flooding. It was the rainiest September in the city since 1882 and it was a stark reminder that climate change is no longer a distant threat but a present-day reality. 

“This is the result of climate change,”said Rohit Aggarwala, commissioner of the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. “Our climate is changing faster than our infrastructure can respond.” (The Independent, Reuters, The New York Times) . 

This summer was earth’s hottest since humans began keeping records in 1880. With a hotter planet, more moisture is held in the atmosphere, leading to more, and more intense, rainfall over a short period. This can overwhelm drainage systems, causing flash floods, like the ones we witnessed in New York City. Climate change amplifies the water cycle, making extreme precipitation events more frequent and severe.

The seemingly never ending series of wake-up calls are becoming more frequent and more dangerous. Take just the last several months. 

In June, much of the region was blanketed by unhealthy smoke from the historic Canadian wildfires, fueled in part by a heating planet. In July came the historic floods in Vermont and Hudson Valley, NY.  Then in August, Lahaina, on the island of Maui, HI, experienced the fifth deadliest wildfire in US history.  

Rising temperatures dry out forests, making them more susceptible to wildfires, and these fires release vast amounts of CO2 and particulate matter into the atmosphere, creating the smog that engulfed our region.

We are in the midst of a full blown climate emergency. Our elected officials need to enact policies that will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, transition the state to clean energy sources, and protect our natural environment if we are going to mitigate the worst impacts and ultimately stem the tide of climate change. 

And we need all individuals to adopt daily sustainable habits, such as recycling; composting; buying local; avoiding plastic containers; walking, biking or using public transportation when feasible. For a more complete list of sustainable habits, click here. We also encourage everyone to take action by writing to your elected officials to remind them, repeatedly if necessary, that reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is essential for our city, country and world.

We must all work together to solve this problem. There is no time to waste. 

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