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What does climate change look like in CNY?

A flooded road in Herkimer after a storm on Halloween 2019

In August, the United Nations published a whopping 1,300-page report showing just how rapidly human pollution is accelerating climate change.

It laid out four different scenarios for our future, all of which predict us reaching a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees celsius before 2040. That’s a decade sooner than predicted during the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

As humanity nears that threshold, scientists expect unbearable temperatures both hot and cold, droughts, floods, wildfires and catastrophic sea-level rise. While this may seem extreme, many aren’t surprised.

“As somebody who's worked on global warming issues for decades, it wasn't surprising to me,” said New York State Senator Rachel May, D–Syracuse, who represents central New York and sits on the state’s Environmental Conservation Committee. She said that we’re out of time to deny or ignore climate change.

“If we don't start really acknowledging that cost and paying it, we are going to be just making the problem worse,” said May.

While central New York may not have devastating wildfires or direct impacts from sea-level rise, this summer has really shown that our region is not immune to climate change.

Dr. Colin Beier is an associate professor at SUNY ESF. He said this hot and humid summer is not a one-off, but extreme weather conditions like this will be the new norm around here.

“I don't just mean like big wind storms or tornadoes or hurricanes, but just the hottest hots and the coldest colds and the snowiest or the driest,” said Beier.

He said some prime examples of climate change in central New York are the less frequent but much more intense thunderstorms and the much more frequent flooding, which is causing pollution and damage to infrastructure.

He said he expects weather events like these to start happening more and more in the coming years.

“We're seeing a lot of those kinds of things happening with more frequency, right? We're redefining what we consider to be kind of unusual weather if that makes any sense,” he said.

So, what can central New Yorkers do to mitigate climate change? Donnie Monk, co-CEO of the Syracuse-based environmental advocacy group, Ecothots, said the solution lies in policy and infrastructure.

“I am a firm believer that individual actions are substantial, yes, but I don't think that recycling a bottle is going to change the fact that the I-81 highway is going to collapse at some point,” she said.

That’s not to say Monk is going to turn away the chance to pick up trash on the side of the road, but she sees the most impact from policy. She said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh’s administration has been excellent advocates for sustainability through their prioritization of infrastructure.

“They're attempting to create an infrastructure where we're all putting in the efforts,” said Monk. “I love this because I feel like each community is affected differently by the flash flooding and all the other climate things that happen in our community.”

Puji San, the founder of Ecothots, said education is a pillar of their organization and a key to sustainability.

“We really wanted, like local people who like don't know anything about science to, like, engage with us and learn more about science and learn more about climate change,” he said.

Senator May says if anything comes out of this report, she hopes it’s a unified belief in and willingness to address the needs of our planet.

“I hope people can't keep saying that, you know, the jury's still out anymore,” she said. “We really do know what the problem is, and we know what we need to do.”

Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.