New York state senators who question the science of human-caused climate change got a public reprimanding from their colleagues during a town hall meeting on Tuesday to discuss how residents have been impacted by the phenomenon.
Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who has been outspoken about the need to act on climate change, called out two powerful Senate Republicans who deny climate science. Both Syracuse-based Sen. John DeFrancisco and newly-elected Senate majority leader John Flanagan have cast doubt on the existence of global warming based on the fact that New York had a lot of snow in 2014.
Flanagan — who recently replaced former majority leader Dean Skelos after a corruption scandal — made his comments last week in a radio interview. “Based on the winter we just had, you say to yourself, are we really going through climate change?” He said.
Safe to say Hoylman was not impressed with that logic.
“My colleagues need to get their facts straight,” Hoylman said at the hearing, noting that weather in one small area of the world has nothing to do with the current global warming trend. “If we continue to stall — and that’s what we’re doing, we’re stalling — our inaction will doom us. The stakes are high, and that is not hyperbole.”
Hoylman was joined by three of his Democratic colleagues from New York City — Sens. Liz Krueger, Bill Perkins, and Daniel Squadron — who echoed his concern about climate science denial in the state Legislature. The senators said New Yorkers are already experiencing various plights via climate change’s impacts on public health and agricultural production, and that the policy conversation should focus on solutions to the problem rather than debate over its existence.
“Too many folks still say climate change is a question,” Squadron said. “There is a real question though, which is what are those efforts to fight climate change, and do we have sufficient efforts in place?”
Of the climate scientists who actively publish research, 97 percent agree that humans cause climate change. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — which draws on the knowledge of almost 800 climate experts across the globe — says it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities are the main cause of atmospheric and ocean warming since the 1950s.
Right now, New York does have what’s known as a Climate Action Plan — a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below the levels emitted in 1990 by the year 2050. It plans on doing this via investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and continued participation in a regional cap-and-trade system.
But Hoylman said the goals are not currently translating into policy. “We think [the Climate Action Plan] is just sitting on a shelf,” he said. “We need to set benchmarks; develop some transparency around these goals.”
Politically, the New York Legislature is split when it comes to climate. The leadership of the Republican-controlled Senate does not seem responsive to global warming concerns, while the Democrat-controlled House has been relatively active on exploring policy initiatives to combat the problem.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is decidedly lukewarm on the subject. Though he’s pushed both adaptation and mitigation efforts in the state — including a $1 billion solar power investment — he’s historically refused to talk about the scientific link between extreme weather events and climate change, citing a desire to avoid contentious debate.
The consensus at Tuesday’s meeting, though, seemed to be that the contentious debate shouldn’t happen in the first place. Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director Environmental Advocates of New York, said the state needs to get to work on implementing solutions and taking a lead on adaptation.
“We’re debating whether climate change is happening rather getting to the task at hand,” he said.