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Blair Horner: The State Of The Climate

Last week the nation’s top science agencies released a report on the planet’s deteriorating climate.  The report, State of the Climate 2016, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made it official: 2016 was the warmest year in recorded history.  And it was the third year in a row that the record was set.

According to the scientists, the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.

Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year were the warmest on record for those respective months.

The report also found that

  • Global land surface temperatures last year were highest in 137 years of record keeping.
  • Sea surface temperatures were also at their highest.
  • Sea levels were at record highs in the 24 years that satellite record keeping has been used.

The peer-reviewed report stated that with a global annual average CO2 concentration of 402.9 parts per million, 2016’s greenhouse gas concentrations are the highest on record—and the first year in more than 800,000 years in which CO2 levels exceeded 400 parts per million.

From a climate perspective, the news is all bad. 

The increasingly dire situation underscores the need for more aggressive responses: greater investments in alternative energy sources and a halt to the expansion of new fossil fuel investments.

It makes no sense to invest in new infrastructure to transport fossil fuels with the planet now increasingly destabilized by the burning of fossil fuels.  In order for such investments to pay off, they must be used for years – years that the planet simply does not have.

It is precisely for that reason, that Governor Cuomo should do all in his power to block new such projects in New York.  He has his one such opportunity with his decision on whether to allow the operation of a new natural gas plant, the Competitive Power Ventures project in the Hudson Valley. 

The project would import and burn large quantities of natural gas. 

And in order for it to succeed financially, it would have to do it for quite some time.  Time, which when it comes to climate change, that the world does not have.

Given the dire circumstances, the state has begun to act.  Other new fossil fuel projects have been scrapped but others, like the Competitive Power Ventures project, are still under consideration.

Earlier this month, energy scientist Amory Lovins laid out a plan for focusing state resources on efficiency and renewables as the best path toward responding to the climate crisis.  His analysis argues that investing resources in efficiency programs reduces energy demand and is so much cheaper per kWh that it could replace much of the power generated by current energy plants.

The longer the world waits in seriously tackling the climate crisis, the more difficult the options.  Blocking the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as curtailing the billions that the governor is using to prop up inefficient, aging nuclear power plants, and instead using those resources to boost efficiency and the use of renewables, are the best options now. New York shouldn’t wait.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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