Drastic cuts in global carbon dioxide emissions are necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Still, decades of human-generated carbon emissions have already locked the planet into some degree of warming and change, climate scientists say.
In other words, the only relevant question is, just how bad will it be? And the answer depends on whether countries across the world can agree to sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, chiefly carbon dioxide.
Local governments should, at a minimum, develop plans to deal with current and anticipated hazards caused by climate trends, such as flooding and strong storms, said Mark Lowery, a climate policy analyst with the State Office of Climate Change. Lowery was the featured speaker at the Rochester chapter of the Sierra Club's annual environmental forum, which was held last night at First Unitarian Church.
"The costs of action pale in comparison to the costs of inaction," Lowery said.
Lowery ran through the science of climate change, but also pitched the state's Climate Smart Communities program. Through the voluntary initiative, local governments develop plans to reduce emissions and prepare for the local effects of climate change. The state provides participating communities with technical assistance in their planning efforts.
Governments and communities in New York need to prepare for a range of problems that climate change will likely make worse. Downpours and strong storms are already happening more often and they're becoming more intense, Lowery said. As a result, flood-prone areas face the potential for more flooding.
Researchers also project that the region will experience more extremely hot days and heat waves. That could lead to more heat-related deaths and could stress utility systems, Lowery said.
One of the audience members, Williamson Supervisor Jim Hoffman, asked what the impact of climate change might be on Wayne County's apple crop. Wayne County is the largest apple-producing county in the second-largest apple-producing state.
Changing temperature patterns won't necessarily mean longer growing seasons, as they might for some other crops, Lowery said. In fact, they could stunt the crops.
"It's not good," Lowery said.