Another Voice: Extreme weather events have become New York’s new normal and the state must act

Buffalo News Opinion: This past week, at least 38 (and likely more) people lost their lives in what some are calling Buffalo’s worst blizzard in 50 years. Sadly, this is not new to the state. Death at the hands of extreme weather is becoming a common occurrence. During Hurricane Sandy there were 48 deaths in our state – the most for any state. And each year there are approximately 370 deaths from heat waves in New York City alone – and that number only covers New York City.

These extreme events have become New York’s new normal. Between 2011-2021, NYS experienced 16 federal disaster declarations for snow, hurricanes and tropical storms, receiving the highest per capita combined Public Assistance, Hazard Mitigation dollars, and Disaster Recovery funding in the nation

Last week, New York State’s Climate Action Council voted to approve the Scoping Plan which addresses climate justice, transitioning to green energy and lowering carbon. Gov. Kathy Hochul also signed legislation that boosts disaster preparedness. While this is a tremendous leap forward, it will not address the suffering that New Yorkers have been experiencing at the face of climate change. When our legislators returns on Jan. 4, here are four immediate actions they can take to ensure that these deaths are not in vain:

1. Create a long-lasting funding source to give local governments the funding they need to adapt. The New York State Environmental Bond Act is only a drop in the bucket for what we need. A few years ago, Rebuild by Design proposed a 2% charge on certain types of property and casualty insurance that could raise $19 billion in 10 years. Others have proposed a superfund-inspired program to make polluters who caused climate change pay for our adaptation. That program could raise tens of billions of much needed dollars.

2. Require statewide updates to disaster notification systems that utilize geo-targeting to deliver life-saving information, in multiple languages, to people who need it most.

3. Prioritize resilience in all government decision-making. Institute cost-benefit analysis that requires a triple bottom line encompassing social, environmental, and financial pillars and prioritize investments in infrastructure with multiple benefits.

4. Adopt the principles of the New York State Adaptation Practitioners Network to promote and support infrastructure that can adapt to climate change. New Yorkers need every agency and every local government working together to create and upgrade New York’s infrastructure to address the effects of climate change before we lose any other lives. Read more>>