Whether climate change really is a crisis was the main question Oren Cass and Andrew Revkin discussed Thursday night at Skidmore College.
Cass is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank focused on economic growth, education, energy and environment, health care, legal reform, race and urban policy. Cass focuses his work on the labor market and the environment.
Revkin is a science and environmental journalist of more than three decades. He has mainly written for The New York Times, and is perhaps best known for his Dot Earth blog. In 2018, he became an environmental and science journalism adviser for the National Geographic Society.
So do we have a crisis on our hands?
Cass said no.
With more of an economist’s perspective, Cass said the costs will be very different in 2100, the year when the United Nation’s latest climate change report said the world will have warmed 3 to 4 degrees Celsius if dramatic action is not taken.
He also said people’s ability to cope is much better than it has been, and cited the number of deaths in three Bangladesh typhoons, which decreased from 500,000 people in 1970 to 4,000 people in 2007. He credited that decrease to the country being better prepared.
There’s also an amount of unpredictability that Cass thinks gets lost in the discussion about climate change.
He still thinks it’s a problem, but a slow-moving one, not a crisis.
“Put aside like dinosaur-killing asteroids and nuclear armageddon, just as compared to, you know, global pandemics or cyber warfare, or you know, the kinds of disruptions in financial markets that we could hypothetically see, climate change again happens much slower, which gives us a chance to respond,” Cass said. “Even when you try to come up with the worst case you can possibly think of, (it) doesn’t necessarily end up looking as bad.”
Revkin took on the crisis question next.
“I say it is a crisis. We’re in a climate crisis, but it’s a crisis of perception,” he said. “It’s actually bigger and a more fundamental phenomenon than I think many people think it is.”
In a way, Revkin seemed to agree with Cass about the lack of immediacy with climate change.
Looking through some of his old articles, Revkin read a quote from a Harvard scientist who said people can slow the rate of climate change, or close their eyes and pay the bill when it’s due.
“Now I’ve heard that same speech, almost boilerplate, every decade since,” he said.
What scares him the most about climate change, he said, is the “element of locking the future into these trajectories.” He called it a “moral crisis,” because what is done now to curb the direction the planet is going in will not have any immediate effect.
Glens Falls featured
The city of Glens Falls was featured in a statewide report on water infrastructure as having a project shovel-ready for state funding that has not been funded.
The example was highlighted in the Environmental Advocates of New York report released Thursday called, “Untapped Potential: Water Infrastructure Spending in New York.” It goes through the state-funded projects and how they’re doing.
Overall, the report showed that the state’s Water Infrastructure Improvement Act is helping municipalities.
“Investments in water infrastructure are paying off,” said Rob Hayes, clean water associate at the organization, in a press release. “Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature must work together to secure a new multi-year funding commitment of $1 billion annually in this year’s budget, to ensure municipalities have the resources to rebuild drinking and wastewater infrastructure.”
The report also suggests there has been a shortage in Water Improvement Infrastructure Act grant funds and used Glens Falls as a case study.
The city was looking to upgrade its 30-year-old water storage tanks that hold the treated drinking water before it is distributed to residents.
Glens Falls applied for a $1.3 million grant for the $3.5 million project in 2016 to replace the tanks’ ventilation screening, which helps keep out dust, insects and rodents, among other things. The city was also looking to replace six, 20-inch valves that are not fully water-tight, and to thicken the tanks’ metal interior and exterior walls.
“All three of these improvements would have contributed substantial protections against sources of contamination for Glens Falls’ drinking water,” the report read. “However, Mr. (Steve) Gurzler (the city’s engineer and water and sewer superintendent) and his department have been unable to undertake this project given the lack of state grant support.”
Environmental Advocates of New York suggests the state invest $80 billion over the next two decades at $4 billion annually to tackle more water infrastructure projects.
Celebrating Park protection
The Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program is celebrating two decades of protecting the region from invasive species.
Over the years, the program has surveyed more than 110,000 miles of roadside and shoreline, managed 2,100 infestations, removed 1,030 infestations and mapped 5,100 infestations of high-threat invasive species, according to a news release.
“We are are extremely proud of what has been accomplished to date, but there is much more work to be done,” said Director Brendan Quirion, in a release.
The program is under a memorandum of understanding between The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the state Department of Transportation and the Adirondack Park Agency.
It collaborates with more than 30 other organizations and many volunteers.
Saratoga Springs Public Library became the second in the state to complete a Green Business Certification from the Green Business Partnership.
The partnership is a nonprofit that helps businesses become sustainable through measuring emissions and implementing strategies related to energy, transportation, waste management, land use and water.
The library’s achievements included reducing the use of disposable and one-time use materials, updating mechanical systems for greater efficiency and contracting for electricity from renewable resources.
“We strive to provide programs and services that reach everyone in our community, and that have enduring social and educational impact,” said Library Director Issac Pulver, in a news release.
Green Business Partnership Director Dani Glaser called the library “a shining example of sustainability at its best.”
To learn more, go to greenbusinesspartnership.org.