Position Statement – 2013
Actions to Mitigate Climate Change and Eliminate Pollution from Energy Sources
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) urges Governor Cuomo to issue an Executive Order setting a goal of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one derived entirely from wind, water and sunlight by 2030. The Executive Order should also direct the New York State Climate Action Council to map out the concrete steps necessary to achieve this goal.
New York State’s Climate Action Plan Interim Report states that “Climate change, resulting primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels and other human activities, is a significant threat to our environment, economy and communities. Climate change is already occurring; its adverse effects are well documented across the globe and throughout our region.” The U.S. Global Change Research Program states that the U.S. average temperature has risen more than 2°F over the past 50 years. The average temperature will continue to rise, with the amount of future increases dependent primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted globally and the sensitivity of the climate to these emissions. In the U.S., the following climate change effects have already occurred and will continue to increase in intensity and/or frequency: heat waves, hurricanes, intense precipitation events, regional droughts, and cold-season storms. Sea levels have risen along most of the U.S. coast over the past 50 years and are expected to rise more in the future.
Greenhouse gas emissions must be cut as much and as soon as possible. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, “Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide would lessen warming over this century and beyond. Sizable early cuts in emissions would significantly reduce the pace and the overall amount of climate change. Earlier cuts in emissions would have a greater effect in reducing climate change than comparable reductions made later. In addition, reducing emissions of some shorter-lived heat-trapping gases, such as methane, and some types of particles, such as soot, would begin to reduce warming within weeks to decades.”
In addition to climate change, the extraction and burning of fossil fuels create pollution that causes premature deaths and serious health problems. The U.S. premature mortality rate from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and complications from asthma due to air pollution has been calculated conservatively to be at least 50,000–100,000 per year. Air pollution also causes chronic illness (bronchitis, heart disease and asthma) in many people. In addition, the extraction of oil, natural gas and coal has caused contamination of surface water and groundwater. Children can be disproportionately affected by pollution because they drink more water and breathe more air relative to their size than adults do, their bodies are not fully developed, and their growing organs can be more easily harmed. Fetuses likewise can be adversely affected by pollution. This sensitive population, as well as the general public, suffers from an energy infrastructure that relies on fossil fuels.
In Executive Order No. 24 (2009), Governor Patterson established a State goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sources within the State 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. New York State can be a national and international leader by adopting a new goal of providing 100% of the state’s all-purpose energy (for electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) from wind, water and sunlight by 2030. Implementation of this goal will achieve the largest possible reductions in air pollution, water pollution, and global warming impacts. It is technically and economically feasible, as described in a recent study that details how to achieve this goal. The resulting energy infrastructure is sustainable, creates long-term energy price stability, and creates more jobs than lost because nearly all New York State energy would be produced within the state. The Climate Action Council can use much of its work in the Climate Action Plan Interim Report to map out necessary steps to reach the new goal.
Governor Cuomo and the State have the opportunity to act as national and international leaders in addressing climate change and pollution related to fossil fuels. With atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide now reaching their highest levels in millions of years after an unprecedented rate of increase, the nation and the international community urgently need leaders. New York should take on that leadership role immediately.