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New York feels the heat

Last fall, many schools across the nation closed due to excessive heat. Acknowledging that the planet is getting hotter and that students may be unsafe in schools when temperatures soar, New York lawmakers approved legislation to require schools to evacuate students if classrooms reach 88 degrees. The bill, if approved by Governor Hochul, would mandate that students be moved to another location or sent home when temperatures hit 88 degrees. The bill also requires that once the temperatures reach 82 degrees, school districts take immediate action to offer students an opportunity to get cool, but they would not have to leave. 

There are a host of questions both in terms of what happens to students if temperatures soar and how to pay for the costs of cooling school buildings – many of which are not designed for a hotter climate. Moreover, will school buses have to offer air conditioning, too? 

While the legislation makes its way to Governor Hochul’s desk, the impact of a rapidly heating planet plays out beyond schools. This week, much of the nation will be sweltering through the first massive heat wave of the summer season and for those in the northeast the heat will feel like over 100 degrees for most of the work week. (Some schools are moving to protect students too, moving to half days.) 

If you’ve noticed that we’re experiencing more heat waves than in the past, you’re right. The reason? Climate change. Research has shown heat waves now occur three times as often as they did in the 1960s. Heat domes (which are more stationary heat waves) are also 150 times more likely due to climate change. As we all know, extreme heat is particularly dangerous — among the deadliest of all extreme weather events

Across the world the hotter planet has caused carnage in many parts of the world. According to the World Health Organization, “The number of people exposed to extreme heat is growing exponentially due to climate change in all world regions. Heat-related mortality for people over 65 years of age increased by approximately 85% between 2000–2004 and 2017–2021.” 

This week’s expected heat wave has triggered some governmental responses. Citing the heat and humidity expected this week when temperatures will “feel like” 100 or more, Governor Hochul urged that "New Yorkers should take every precaution they can over this next week to stay cool and stay safe.” She also urged that for those who do not have sufficient ways to keep cool that the state will make available “cooling centers” for those in need. 

Reducing the heat in schools and offering “cooling centers” come with a price tag. And those costs can be added to the tens of billions of dollars that New Yorkers will face over the coming years to deal with the climate change impacts of intense heat, more damaging storms, floods, rising sea levels, and an overall worsening environment. 

There is simply no getting around these costs and others. New York, the nation, and the world will have to deal with these and other climate-related catastrophes over the remainder of the century. The only thing we can do now is to act to avoid the worst of the possible outcomes. 

Of course, it didn’t have to be this way. If the oil companies had just alerted the world to the dangers when they knew about them (at least four decades ago) and led the charge to respond, the world likely would not be facing this existential crisis. 

Things, however, are what they are, and we must act. 

The Hochul Administration’s public warnings and services to those in need are important. Yet, they are not sufficient. The taxpayer costs for dealing with the climate catastrophe will be staggering and will total in the tens of billions of dollars. Unfortunately, those costs – like the temperature of the planet – are expected to keep rising. 

What can the governor do? She can sign the “Climate Change Superfund Act,” which puts the world’s largest oil companies on the hook for at least some of those costs. The bill requires those companies most responsible for the emissions of greenhouse gases to pay the state $3 billion annually for the next 25 years. The major hangup had been concerns that the annual assessment will be passed on to the public. That concern runs counter to basic marketplace economics, a view echoed in an independent economic paper published by the respected Institute for Policy Integrity at the NYU School of Law. 

Global energy-related CO2 emissions hit a record high last year, according to the International Energy Agency, and 2023 was the hottest year on record. The state, the nation, and the world need to stop using fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Governor Hochul can help protect taxpayers by ensuring that Big Oil contributes to the cleanup of the mess that they made – which unfortunately includes kids baking in their classrooms before the calendar even says it’s summer.

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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