While politicians dither and debate over climate change, perpetuating a legislative cage match between science and ideology, the realists at Yale Climate & Energy Institute (YCEI) aren’t waiting around. Last fall they launched a multidisciplinary project—in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and MIT—to study how climate change will impact Yale University’s infrastructure, as well as the rest of Coastal Connecticut and New England, over the next century.
“Holding off doesn’t make any sense,” states Mark Pagani, professor of geology and geophysics at Yale and director of YCEI, “since policy is something that needs to be built and developed in the next handful of years.”
The institute was formed five years ago to bring together individuals from various academic disciplines at Yale to explore the many facets of climate change. The idea for the project actually came from a provost who asked Pagani whether it would be possible to project climate impacts on Yale and recommend mitigation remedies. “The idea of going into the future is an obvious one, but very few people consider it with any sense of urgency,” Pagani says. “I took it as an interesting lesson, that the administration would be interested in the next 100 years.”
The project’s researchers, including faculty and postdoctoral fellows, have begun compiling data on temperature, sea levels, groundwater levels, and other elements, which will be used to generate computer simulations into the future.
Those simulations will factor in the impact of carbon emissions, which significantly contribute to global warming. There is a growing body of scientific evidence, too, connecting rising temperatures of ocean water to more frequent and intense storms, as experienced during hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Based on the YCEI models, New Haven and other municipalities along the Northeast coastline can then intelligently plan to prepare vulnerable homes and businesses and introduce a variety of mitigation strategies. The project is also currently examining how Lyme disease and other insect-borne diseases may be affected by climate change. Will warmer temperatures and moister air increase the region’s population of deer that carry Lyme-infected ticks, or will they migrate northward to Canada and alleviate the disease in Connecticut? “Other types of diseases are coming, though we don’t fully understand how, why, or where,” Pagani predicts. “Understanding that risk is key.”
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