Earth Day has been around since 1970. However, the tree-huggers back then had no way of knowing how climate change would affect their children, their country, and the planet. And though we have no crystal ball to tell us how the Earth will change in the next four decades, a new report by advocacy agency Environment New York and Policy Center gives us an educated guess, although the answers don’t necessarily paint a sunny picture of the future. The report, “Dangerous Inheritance,” found a “high degree of certainty” that the United States and future generations will more frequently experience extreme weather in the coming years, thanks in part to anthropocentric climate change and global warming.
With Hurricane Sandy and a colder than average winter in the Northeast (while the rest of the world slogged through the hottest year on record), these shifting weather patterns have already been documented. Some of the more alarming findings are expected sea levels rises (already an average of 0.14 inches each year), which would especially affect the New York Metropolitan area. And, of course, global warming; average temperatures in the United States have increased 1.6 degrees since the 1970s, and the global mean temperature is expected to steadily keep climbing.
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Chart courtesy of NOAA
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that despite the brutal winter we saw in the northeast, almost the entire rest of the world recorded hotter than average temperatures.
Chart courtesy of The EPA
Observed and projected changes in global average temperature under three no-policy emissions scenarios. The shaded areas show the likely ranges while the lines show the central projections from a set of climate models.
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Climate change not only causes more extreme weather, it can also have unforeseen adverse health effects—and not just on future generations. The elderly, who are already at risk in high temperatures, are expected to face increased climate-related health issues. Increased flooding can create environments that promote diseases, and food supplies could become an issue, too, as climate change is expected to have “significant impacts on crop yields.”
“We have citizens engaged in the debate,” said Director of Environment New York Heather Leibowitz. “Together we can take action on climate change to build a stronger, healthier, and more secure environment for future New Yorkers.” Leibowitz urged individuals to tell New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (who recently participated in an all-nighter event for climate action) to defend a clean power plan in the senate. “What we really need is to get our decision-makers on board here, because we’ve seen a lot of fights in the Senate,” Leibowitz said.
Leibowitz said that the most important takeaway from their new report is that, “this resonates more with people of all demographics that global warming isn’t something for the future; it’s happening now.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently said in a press release that climate change is affecting a new generation of young adults. The good news is that, according to Ban, action on the part of millennials can alleviate some damage.
“2015 is not just another year, it is a chance to change the course of history,” Ban said, emphasizing that this is the “first generation with the potential to end poverty and the last with the ability to avert the worst effects of climate change.”
State and federal agents are already taking steps to reverse the damage of climate change and global warming. President Obama made a historical agreement with China last November to reduce carbon pollution. Part of this, addressed in the “Dangerous Inheritance” report, is the Clean Power Plan, which would limit carbon pollution from power plants. Leibowitz emphasized that this is one of the biggest steps forward to prevent further climate-related damage.