The bust of Hercules on display in Stony Brook is...

The bust of Hercules on display in Stony Brook is flooded out by the unusually high tide from Tropical Storm Henri on the afternoon of August 22, 2021 Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Long Island ranks fourth among major American population centers for exposure to the physical and economic risks of climate change, behind only San Francisco, Cape Coral, Florida and New York City, according to a report released last week by Moody’s Analytics.

The 14-page report indicates that Long Island is uniquely at risk to warming temperatures, along with severe weather events such as hurricanes and major flooding — all risks that experts attribute to climate change.

On a scale of zero to 100, the island received scores between 52 and 63 in three key risk categories — heat, sea level rise and water stress, the latter indicating an elevated risk for drought because of the region’s sole source aquifer.

Adam Kamins, a senior director at Moody’s Analytics and the author of the report, said Long Island faces some of the most significant physical risks from climate change nationwide.

"With sea level rise, Long Island is a lot more exposed than the rest of the country for obvious reasons," he said. " … Combined with acute physical risk associated with hurricanes, which are expected — especially if climate change goes largely unmitigated — to grow stronger, more frequent and to make their way north, probably a little bit more force than they have historically. That puts Long Island in a vulnerable position."

New York City, Moody's found, faces the risk of "significant losses" attributed to sea-level rise because Manhattan is surrounded by water and frequent flooding could prove "crippling" to an economy where so much of its activity is linked to low-lying land or subway tunnels.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said science shows that Long Island is highly vulnerable to coastal flooding and sea level rise.

"This report should be seen as a call to action," Esposito said. "And it's not just environmentalists saying this anymore. It's every scientist around America who has identified these vulnerable areas with Long Island being number four."

Kamins focused on the economic impact of climate change on major population centers, including the long-term future of oil and gas production, housing price affordability and the threat of residents migrating from at-risk areas to those that are less vulnerable. 

The report from Moody's, which supplies periodic analysis of such issues for economic forecasting, suggests three possibilities for addressing these issues.

First, there could be near immediate mandates that would likely drive the nation away from fossil fuels. Second, leaders could wait nearly another decade to take serious regulatory action and potentially trigger a recession. Third, pursuing the existing scenario, which assumes no major climate change policies, minimizing economic disruptions but increasing physical risks.

"This spells trouble for the usual vulnerable coastal states like Florida and New York, along with steep losses for island territories," the report concludes. "For any state or metro area with an especially pessimistic outlook, a straight line can generally be drawn from physical risk scores to the forecasts."

Esposito encouraged policymakers to support offshore wind initiatives, to shore up coastlines with reestablished wetlands and bulkheads, elevating more homes and ensuring that the region's aquifer system is sustainable longterm. 

"For those people who are not concerned about [the effect of climate change on] drinking water, they should be concerned about the economic vulnerabilities of Long Island due to climate change," she said.

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