By Dan Shapley
Future Of Beaches, Farms, Fisheries And Tourism In Our Hands Now
A new report outlines extraordinary risks to the Northeast's way of life if global warming continues unabated -- and it makes clear that the choices we make now to curb or allow greenhouse gas emissions will have clear consequences during the lifetimes of today's children. The report, by the Union Of Concerned Scientists in cooperation with 50 scientists and economists, outlines two scenarios. In one, nothing is done to stop global warming pollution, and temperatures rise by an average of 8-12 degrees in winter, and 6-14 degrees in summer by the time "children born today reach middle age." In the other scenario, this generation takes action to curb greenhouse gas pollution, and temperatures rise less dramatically -- an average of 5-8 degrees in winter and 3-7 degrees in summer. Even the low-emissions scenario has serious consequences: Sea-level rise of 7-14 inches; stress to traditional farms like dairies and tree fruit and the loss of cod fishing south of Cape Cod and lobster fishing south of Rhode Island. But acting now would avoid more extreme consequences, including:
- Sea-level rise of 10-23 inches, which would make 100-year floods -- those so big that today they are expected only once every century -- to occur as frequently as every other year by mid-Century in coastal cities like Boston and Atlantic City. New York City would suffer such a flood about every decade by 2100, as opposed to every two decades if something is done now.
- Beach and coastal wetland erosion would threaten property and recreation along the New Jersey shore, Cape Cod and Long Island.
- Dairy farms would see milk production drop by as much as 20% during summer months, as heat-stressed cows stop producing -- especially in Pennsylvania.
- Several varieties of apples, blueberries and cranberries -- staples of the region's agriculture and culture -- would no longer thrive in much of the region.
- Herbicide and pesticide use would likely increase, as new and bolstered pests attack crops.
- Cod will disappear from the renowned fishing grounds of Georges Banks.
- Skiing will disappear from the Northeast, with the exception of slopes that make their own snow and those on in Western Maine. Snowmobiling would be restricted to a two-month season in northern New Hampshire.
These consequences are not inevitable. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050 would avoid the worst consequences described above, and the Northeast has already emerged as a leader in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Then-Gov. George Pataki, a New York Republican, organized a region-wide cap and trade program for carbon emissions from power plants that is to go into effect in 2009. While it, alone, is not enough to stop the consequences of global warming in the Northeast or around the world, it was a foundational step as the country prepares for a low-carbon economy. Most states also require energy utilities to supply specified percentages of renewable energy as part of their portfolios, and several have adopted California's strict greenhouse gas limits on vehicles -- a provision awaiting approval from the federal government. "The Northeast has a tremendous opportunity to help lead us to a secure climate future," said James McCarthy, professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University, vice-chair of the NECIA, and president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "Fortunately, more and more people understand the stakes and are mobilizing around the problem. The time to act is now." For more information on the report, click here
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