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How to Protect Our Communities from Climate Change and Extreme Weather Like Sandy

Frances Beinecke

Posted November 2, 2012

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New York and New Jersey are inching toward recovery, but we have a long way to go before we rebound from Hurricane Sandy. Like millions of residents, my family is still without power. NRDC’s New York office remains darkened and many of our staff members have had to leave their homes for warmer, drier locations. All across the region, people are lining up for fuel for generators, buses for work, and food for families. Many senior citizens are stranded in their apartments without heat or critical medicines, and many families are stuck in public-housing high rises in Lower Manhattan without access to safer alternatives.

Experts used to discuss climate change in terms of computer models and scientific forecasts. Now Americans are talking about it in its most urgent terms: people’s lives. When climate change intensifies extreme weather like hurricanes and droughts, our families—and our homes, jobs, neighborhoods, and plans for our children—feel the brunt.

The human toll of climate change is mounting and we must act. America must wake up and curb climate change. Whoever is elected next week has to make this a top priority, and we at NRDC will do everything in our power to make that happen.


Debris in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Sunset Parkerpix.

Many leaders are already pointing the way forward. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday, “I think part of learning from [Hurricane Sandy] is the recognition that climate change is a reality. Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.” On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that Hurricane Sandy and other extreme storms reveal the need for local and national leadership on climate change.

We applaud Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg. They are talking about climate change because they want to get our region back on its feet and make sure we are prepared for the next extreme weather event. They aren’t working some political angle. This isn’t about Democrats, Independents, or Republicans. It’s about all New Yorkers.

And it’s about all Americans. The Mid Atlantic was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, but earlier this summer, the National Weather Service’s Drought Monitor said more than half the country was in the grip of the worst drought in 50 years and nearly 1,300 counties had been designated disaster areas. As many as 131 million people were under heat advisories during the hottest July since record keeping began. And thousands of residents in Western states had to evacuate their homes during one of the worst fire seasons in years.

Climate change is making its presence known no matter where we live. And that is why we must tackle this crisis as a nation.  

We can start by making sure local communities have the resources and the blueprints they need to prepare for the affects of the changing climate. NRDC recently assessed several cities and states for their preparedness and found that many have starting changing transportation, sewage, and other infrastructure to reflect rising seas, more frequent floods, and prolonged droughts.

But even as we make our communities more resilient, we must also address the problem at its root. We must reduce the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change. We do this by using energy more efficiently, cleaning up our power plants, rejecting dirty fuels like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and increasing our use of renewable energy.

We have already made progress. Nearly 35 percent of all new power plant capacity built in the U.S. in the last four years came from wind. And a new set of energy efficiency standards NRDC helped develop for refrigerators, dishwashers and other products will reduce carbon pollution by 100 million metric tons a year by 2035—approximately equivalent to emissions from 25 coal-fired power plants. Meanwhile, the Obama administration issued fuel economy standards that will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half. It also proposed the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.

This is a good start but we must do more. We must set carbon limits on existing power plants (click here to send a message to the administration in support of carbon limits). We must extend incentives for wind energy and spur investment in clean energy research. And we must promote energy efficiency by passing several pieces of pending legislation that enjoy broad bipartisan support.

These are the kind of concrete steps we can take to protect our communities from further ravages of climate change. No matter who is elected president next week, we must raise our voices and demand our leaders take climate action. We owe it to the people on the frontlines of climate change: all of us.

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James A. Singmaster, III, Ph.D.Nov 4 2012 01:24 AM

Nothing NRDC proposes will curb the problem of CC/GW and probably worse climate problems will continue. If we have overloads of heat energy and CO2 already in the biosphere, then proposals for more efficiency still mean adding more of both.
THE BIGGEST POINT UNRECOGNIZED BY NRDC is that with growing population biowastes are growing to be mishandled by dumping where natural biodegrading process will be reemitting more and more trapped CO2 and energy to be worsening CC/GW. I have posted many comments on this blog about making our ever-growing biowaste messes into the KEY resource for sustainability.
Readers caring about their descendants surviving beyond 2040 may want to let NRDC know that it should be getting action on what I have proposed for over 6 years on Switchboard and other blogs including Dotearth and Green of NYTimes, Yale's E360 and Resources for the Future. James Singmaster, III, Ph.D., Environmental Chemist, Ret

Mike S.Nov 4 2012 07:17 AM

James, there is not enough bio-waste to do what you say. If you are actually a PhD, you probably know that already.

And the effort to collect all of it to turn into energy would, itself, be energy intensive, especially considering that a lot of waste is mostly water.

James A. Singmaster, III, Ph. D. Nov 5 2012 06:52 PM

Mike S. I hope that you will cheack for my earlier comments here and elsewhere for more details that include getting hydrogen, the clean fuel by splitting water using a catalyst(More on this in The New Yorker articlle by Owen "The Articial Leaf" May 14, this year by D. Owen). Big energy is scared out of its wits for this energy source to be developed.
Almost all of our biowastes are already being collected to be dumped aren't they???? And very often, germs, drugs and toxics are then given chances to escape and pollute the biosphere. Pyrolysis will destroy the germs, toxics and drugs so that no costly forever monitoring of dump sites will not be needed if they have no biowastes in them.
Since most of our biowastes are already getting collected to be dumped, wouldn't it be better to take them to a pyrolysis plant to get some renewable fuel and some inert charcoal to be removing some energy and CO2 from circulation if the charcoal gets buried. But better to use it as soil amendment if made from biowastes as some plant nutrients are in that charcoal. Also speaking of costs running sewage plants takes lots of energy to be via natural biodegradation causing reemitting trapped CO2 and energy and possibly other hazards(SO2, H2S, N-oxides, CFHs). That doesn't make much sense to me. I hope that you will check my past postings here
Present inaction on making organic wastes into a resource for real sustainability will result in our descendants being buried, burned up or poisoned by them. Dr. J. Singmaster

Mike S.Nov 5 2012 07:16 PM

Hydrogen is a battery, not a fuel. And the spontaneous conversion of water to hydrogen does not save energy. Splitting water takes a certain amount of energy. When you use a spontaneous chemical reaction to do this, you consume extremely large amounts of the metal that is used to do it. Then to get the metal back, you have to expend the same energy you "saved" when you split water. Otherwise, you totally deplete the world's supply of that metal.

The laws of thermodynamics a massive inconvenience in your plan.

james Singmaster, IIINov 5 2012 09:29 PM

Splitting water using sunlight energy means getting sun energy into useable form Suggest you read The New Yorker article. The main way to use the hydroegn for fuel is via catalyric coverter to get electricity. The Alameda County Transit System going thru Berkeley and Oakland has one or more bus running on hydrogen this way.. Several oil cos in 2004-6 were talking up big about the ir hydrogen for fuel program until the first of several reports on such catalyst came out to make them suddenly realize that they had no way to corner the market on water and sun light. Not a peep out of Exxon et al since then on hydrogen as a fuel. THE BIG POINT I Have stressed repeatly is that we have to make the sun our sole energy source if our descendants are to have a future with a viable earth to live on.

Mike S.Nov 9 2012 01:00 PM

Using electricity from solar power to split water into hydrogen is exactly what I meant when I said hydrogen is a battery. You can either use electricity to store energy as hydrogen, or to store energy in a battery. Hydrogen is just another way to store energy. And it's a very inefficient and expensive way to do it, which is why car companies are making electric cars, not hydrogen cars.

And there is no such thing as a catalyst that reduces the amount of energy required to split water. That's not what catalysts do. If you think otherwise, that confirms my suspicion that you are not an actual scientist with a PhD.

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