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Queens Chronicle

City panels prep for climate change

Flooding in low-lying areas a threat if sea levels rise and storms worsen

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Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 10:56 am, Thu Sep 27, 2012.

The New York City Panel on Climate Change and Climate Change Adaptation Task Force will be meeting regularly to assess how they can best prepare the people of New York City for any intense storms to come.

Established in 2008 by Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council, the Climate Panel and Task Force are designed to issue climate change prediction once every three years.

Recent tornadoes that caught many New Yorkers by surprise are reminders for residents to take precautions in case storms worsen as sea levels rise due to global warming, advocates say.

“The reality is we are surrounded by water and the southern part of Queens is low-lying,” said Dan Hendrick, spokesman for the New York League of Conservation Voters. “Queens residents are already experiencing a warming climate and more frequent, intense storms. It makes sense to start preparing now for more flooding.”

City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), head of the Committee on Environmental Protection, created the bill that set up the panel and task force.

“This legislation, when passed and enacted, will be the first bill from any state or local government in the country to create an institutional government mechanism to assess the latest climate change science, plan for climate change impacts and implement adaptive strategies,” Gennaro said in proposing the measure.

He said he designed the panels as a legislatively established permanent governmental fixture so they can flesh out the issues pertaining to climate change without the chance of any new government official wanting to do away with them, if they ever felt there was no need for the panel or the task force.

The task force is made up of agencies in transportation, energy and telecommunications, where shoring up infrastructure is a concern.

The Panel on Climate Change is made up of scientists who have established that there are certain major issues that can affect Queens the rest of the city, including the changing of the coastline, rising of the sea level and degradation of coastal wetlands — in addition to poor air quality, more severe weather and high heat.

“Climate change isn’t an abstract issue affecting only polar bears and Arctic ice,” Gennaro said. “Queens residents should also take some time to learn more about climate change and the steps they can take to help slow it down.”

The New York Times reported this month that the city comes in second only to New Orleans in the number of people living less than four feet above the water level — 200,000 in the Big Apple.

For areas ranging from Jamaica, Howard Beach and Rockaway to Long Island City, Astoria and College Point, flooding is expected to become more of an issue than it already is.

Some areas in Southeast Queens, such as the Baisley housing complex, already suffer from significant flooding due to the high water table, Hendrick noted.

Dr. James Cervino, a College Point residnet, marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Cape Cod, Mass. and environmental chairman of Community Board 7, clarified that there are two major factors that come into play with climate change today: physical and biological.

The physical damage encompasses problems like coastal erosion and sea-level rise, whereas biological damages are centered around infectious diseases such as those borne by mosquitos, and waterborne harmful algal blooms that kill shellfish in massive dieoffs all along coastal areas here in Queens and the rest of geographic Long Island.

Cervino, like most scientists studying the issue, said the burning of gasoline, coal and other fossil fuels is to blame.

“Addressing global warming-induced climate change from excessive need and thirst for fossil fuels needed to happen yesterday,” he said.

He also explained that other conditions are exacerbated by global warming, such as annoying allergies and worse lung disorders and respiratory illnesses including asthma.

Although, Bloomberg, Gennaro and many others concerned about climate change are trying to educate residents about the damage it can cause, there are people who contend the city is not moving fast enough in acknowledging the fact that the flooding issue can jeopardize public transportation as well as homes and schools, a point made in the Times report, which ran Sept. 10.

The Parsons-Archer subway station on the J and E line in Jamaica, for example, has already seen problems due to flooding, with MTA workers using pumps to get the water out. Ensuring such instances don’t become more commonplace is among the city panels’ priorities.

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