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The climate hits keep on coming

After a brutal snowstorm in Western New York, the state of California has been inundated with record rainfall. Of course, big rainstorms and deadly snowstorms are not new, but the frequency and intensity are what climate scientists have been predicting.

Add these storms to the growing evidence of what climate scientists have been warning: A rapidly heating planet will destabilize the world’s weather leading to more intense and more frequent storms. Coupled with warming oceans and rising sea levels, civilization as we know it will have to adapt, and adapt fast, in order to deal with the problems resulting from climate change.

The world needs to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions – from the burning of oil, coal, and gas – and it will need to develop new forms of energy to power our civilization. But the costs to the world’s infrastructure in order to adapt roads, bridges, and coastal cities, to the threats posed by intensifying storms and rising sea levels will be staggering.

Here in New York, one think tank estimated that the climate costs to New York will top $55 billion this decade. A recent report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that it will take $52 billion to protect New York Harbor alone.

Even if the world succeeds in reducing greenhouse gases to zero by the middle of this Century, global warming will continue, so the costs of resiliency will continue to mount.

There is an old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Had the world reversed its headlong rush to the climate breaking point that we’re all at right now decades earlier, the costs would be far smaller. But we didn’t, why?

A new report added new light to the answer to that question.

A new study published last week in the journal Science found that in the 1970s the oil giant Exxon’s scientists made remarkably accurate projections of just how much burning fossil fuels would warm the planet. In fact, Exxon scientists warned the company’s executives of “potentially catastrophic” human-caused climate change.

Their projections were as accurate, or more so, as those of independent academic and government models.

Yet for years, Exxon undermined climate science, including their own findings, and campaigned against efforts to curb the burning of fossil fuels. Exxon – and other companies – funded public relations campaigns, hired well-connected lobbyists, and wrote campaign checks to allied lawmakers, all in a successful effort to block change.

So, that’s what happened. Instead of taking the morally responsible path of alerting the world to the threat, Exxon and other companies kept their findings hidden and did all they could to stop necessary actions. As a result, the last eight hot years have been the warmest on record. That added heat has led to famines, stoked violent conflict, eroded glaciers, triggered massive floods and wildfires. People are starving and dying, millions are on the move away from the heat and toward more temperate areas.

And it will get worse.

As mentioned earlier, there are immediate costs to adapt to the wilder weather and rising sea levels. Those costs will be enormous but must be paid. A failure to do so will lead to economic disasters as roadways get washed away and mass transit systems are flooded.

Who picks up the tab?

So far, we are. Unless Governor Hochul and state lawmakers take action, these inevitable costs will be paid by New York taxpayers. You’ve already put down a down payment with the passage last year of the Environmental Bond Act, which will provide $4.2 billion to address costs, some of which are related to the climate crisis. But that’s just a “drop in the ocean” of current and looming costs.

There is one industry that should bear those costs and has the resources to do so – the oil industry. It was the oil industry that conducted the science that identified the problem, it was they who blocked meaningful action, and it is they who are now reaping record profits.

Big Oil is responsible for the mess we’re in. It is up to Governor Hochul and state lawmakers to teach the industry the lesson we’ve all learned – you made the mess, now you clean it up.

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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