Global Warming Becomes Local Issue in New York

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Global warming has emerged as a top New York environmental issue, with accumulated scientific data showing a hotter atmosphere and projecting more radical changes over the next century from automobile and power plant emissions, according to a report issued Wednesday.

New York temperatures rose an average of 1.13 degrees Fahrenheit from 1900 to 1999, and two projection models indicate increases from 5 to 9.5 degrees over the next century, with implications for heat-related illnesses, coastal flooding, wildlife losses and insurance costs, said David Gahl, who wrote the report for Environmental Advocates of New York.

"We've gotten beyond questioning the science on this," said Gahl.

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Environmental Advocates, a group that presses for the protection of natural resources, used as its primary report sources the national academies of science of the United States, Britain, Canada and eight other industrialized nations, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Climatic Data Center.

"There is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring," the academies said in a joint statement last year.

They cited air and water temperatures, higher sea levels, retreating glaciers and higher greenhouse gas concentrations — including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and methane — in the atmosphere well above pre-industrial levels.

About 90 percent of the greenhouse gases, so called because they trap heat in the atmosphere, are from fuel combustion, Gahl said.

"We have choices," Gahl said. "This is not inevitable."

Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer has already called global warming the most important environmental issue facing this generation, noting as attorney general he's party to the lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court trying to require federal regulators to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

"I support state regulations that would regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant," he said in written comments Oct. 27 to the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks.

Climate change will be the subject of a conference in the Hudson Valley scheduled Dec. 4 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Gahl, former senior policy analyst for the state Assembly Ways and Means Committee, said the challenge is finding politically palatable measures to further cut vehicle and power plant emissions. Among other things, his report recommends:

— Tighter statewide caps from each sector with an overall goal of up to 85 percent emission reduction by mid-century.

— Requiring utilities to achieve a certain levels of energy efficiency in their territories.

— Reducing vehicle travel through insurance and registration pay-as-you-drive pricing.

— Establishing a permanent climate change commission.

— Retooling New York's planned power plant emission allowances under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.