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6 takes on why you should care about climate change

The 2018 National Climate Assessment is blunt and bracing, spelling out the risks and projected impacts of climate change for each region of the country.

Here are six takes on the report and climate change, from Los Angeles to Long Island.

Brian T. Wygal

Matt Vogel, left, leads prospective students and family
Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

The National Climate Assessment says climate change "is going to get significantly worse," says Brian T. Wygal, an associate professor of anthropology and the director of environmental studies at Adelphi University.

"And it's in our lifetime. That's the important thing," Wygal said. "This will impact our students. It's going to impact our students, on Long Island. I wouldn't buy our oceanfront property right now."

In fact, his students at Adelphi "have suffered remarkable devastation because of climate change" already, with many losing their homes during superstorm Sandy, Wygal said in a statement.

The report issued Nov. 23 "connects, in no-uncertain terms, destructive changes in the intensity and frequency of recent catastrophe and predicts the economic and human consequences for our near future," said Wygal, who is an environmental archaeologist.

"We should listen to our scientists and not the politicians. It is clear that decisive leadership is lacking in Washington, D.C. Our local communities and institutions must take immediate actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions, especially from the agricultural sector, and switch to a green energy economy. There is no reason why making these changes cannot spur economic growth in new sectors of our economy."

In an interview, Wygal said institutions and communities have to lead the way — including Adelphi, which "can do more to be a sustainable campus."

His students want action and change, he said. "They're the ones that have to live with this for the rest of their lives."

Pictured: Prospective students and family members on a tour of Adelphi's campus in Garden City on July 31, 2018.

Steven Cohen

A look, from the air, at the superstorm
Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz

Steven Cohen, a former executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, and professor at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, puts a fine point on the climate rift in the United States.

"There's only very few people who don't think it's a big problem," he said about climate change. "Unfortunately, they're running the country."

President Donald Trump declared in 2017 that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. The earliest it could completely withdraw is Nov. 4, 2020, the UN Climate Change press office said in an email.

"I think we should be having a discussion about what to do, not whether the problem exists. That is not helpful, and actually setting us back," Cohen said.

It's in America's economic interest to make the quickest transition to a renewable resource-based economy — and the place that does that will be the most powerful in the world, Cohen said.

Asked if Americans are feeling the urgency of climate change and that it's happening now, Cohen brought up his summer house on Long Beach.

"We had 5 feet of water after Sandy and we had to redo the entire ground floor," he said. Fortunately they had flood insurance, Cohen said, but "it was very rough."

In a blog post, Cohen wrote about three "obvious policy prescriptions for addressing climate change: pricing carbon through a tax, reducing greenhouse gasses through command and control regulation, or dramatically increasing research funding for clean energy technology."

The answer is a mix of the three, he said — but given political reality, focus on research and development and get better batteries.

Pictured: Superstorm Sandy's destruction in Far Rockaway seen on Oct. 31, 2012.

Yoca Arditi-Rocha

Lanie Eden and her husband Ron stand in
Photo Credit: AP / Gerald Herbert

The "biggest, probably most compelling piece" of the 2018 National Climate Assessment "is the economic risk of inaction," Yoca Arditi-Rocha says.

Arditi-Rocha is executive director of The CLEO Institute, a Miami-based nonprofit that works with front-line communities to build climate literacy.

Extreme temperature-related deaths are projected to cost $140 billion per year by 2090 under the worst-case scenario, the report says. In an email, Arditi-Rocha ticked off more such expected 2090 costs: "Coastal property damage: $118 billion. Inland flooding: $8 billion. Water quality: $5 billion. Damage to coastal reefs: $4 billion."

But climate events are already costing the U.S. economy many billions each year, she said, citing hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma in 2017 and the California fires and hurricanes Michael and Florence in 2018.

"The economic costs of increased flooding due to sea level rise to our region and number of extreme rainfall events are increasing," she said. With Irma, Michael and the red tide crisis, she wrote in late November, climate-related events in the previous 18 months have had a huge toll on Florida and especially affected its main economic drivers of tourism and agriculture.

Arditi-Rocha discussed many climate issues the state faces or will face. Among them, "the report clearly states that the number of warm nights in Florida is increasing dramatically. As we know a changing warmer climate, exacerbates pre-existing social inequalities and communities of color and low-income urban communities without access to AC will be especially impacted."

And more warm nights affects agricultural production and workers' conditions, she said.

Pictured: A couple stands in a destroyed rental vacation home in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., on Oct. 17, 2018.

Brian Smith

FILE - In this June 3, 2017 file
Photo Credit: AP / Branden Camp

Brian Smith is a Republican who views climate change as "a top two issue."

"It's something I care a lot about, and increasingly think about casting my votes based on those things, because I want to see public officials take it more seriously. And I think it's a risk that needs to be mitigated," he said.

Smith, a product manager in technology who lives in Chicago, is a spokesman for republicEn, a group devoted to "free-enterprise solutions to climate change." Like republicEn, he supports a carbon tax.

"There's a cost to using products and things that emit carbon, and we need to take account for that cost," he said.

His takeaways from the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the National Climate Assessment were that "this science is super-complex," and climate modeling is extremely hard — and because of that, the estimates of what can happen because of fossil fuel emissions can have a lot of variability.

But Smith also said that as a conservative, the forecasts are climate change could be really bad — and the conservative approach "would be to hedge your bets and try to come up with policy solutions that try to account for that risk." A carbon tax is "a way to do that," he said.

Pictured: The coal-fired Plant Scherer is seen in the distance in Juliette, Ga., on June 3, 2017.

Elizabeth Lavulo

Children hold a placard as they await the
Photo Credit: Pool / AP / Phil Nobel

Elizabeth Lavulo lives in Los Angeles, but she identifies as a Tongan American. The threat she sees for Polynesian islands from climate change could not be more serious.

"We're going to be underwater. That's why we're the canaries in the coal mine," she said.

Lavulo is an entrepreneur and runs a media platform for her diaspora of Polynesia, thewhatitdo.com. "I have to keep up on it, so I can inform my diaspora," she said of climate change, which she's been following heavily since 2009.

"Now the most controversial topic is climate change in our community, because how we vote affects our countries of heritage in the Pacific," Lavulo explained. She added, "We're taking a more political stand in standing up for climate change, because it affects us … 1,000 percent."

Her grandfather came from Tonga, a small kingdom of islands in the South Pacific, to the United States in 1960. He grew the diaspora of Tongan-Americans here and became a citizen in 1965, she said.

Lavulo said the national climate report just confirms the views she was sharing with Newsday.

"We're living like we're still in the '70s and '80s, like everything is still roses, and it's not like that anymore. We need to do more renewable energy," she said.

Americans have to change the way they live and be eco-conscious, she said. And, she advised, "We need to learn from indigenous communities on how we take care of the land," referring to American Indians, Hawaiians and even farmers.

Pictured: Children hold a placard as they await the arrival of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, for their meeting with the Tongan prime minister in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, on Oct. 26, 2018.

Susanne M. Torriente and Amy Knowles

FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2014, file
Photo Credit: AP / Lynne Sladky

The National Climate Assessment has gotten much attention, but the narrative about it needs to change, two Miami Beach city officials said.

"Too many years of study and hard work have gone by for this to still be a partisan issue. This report should be a call to action, rather than pitting climate change believers against climate change deniers," Susanne M. Torriente, Miami Beach's chief resiliency officer and an assistant city manager, and deputy resiliency officer Amy Knowles said in an email. They called for people to work together "to create pathways to serious progress."

Torriente was part of the committee that reviewed the draft report.

Miami Beach's adaptation work is cited in the climate assessment; Torriente and Knowles said they frequently host visitors "to tour and learn from our work."

The report makes clear "that if we do nothing, bad things will happen," they said. But it also drew attention to projects "to reduce the risks from climate change," they pointed out.

"The outlook is incredibly serious, but these strong examples should motivate us to do more and not scare us to do less," Torriente and Knowles said. "The doom and gloom can be paralyzing — but it should instead be a call to action for the nation for individual communities."

Pictured: Vehicles negotiate heavily flooded streets as rain falls in Miami Beach, Fla., on Sept. 23, 2014.

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