Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (commonly known as AOC) has emerged as the most high-visibility Democratic figure of 2018 following her radical policy recommendations to “fight” climate change.
Like everyone else, she is entitled to her opinion on the environment. But when she insists on implementing policies like the Green New Deal (GND)—with massive negative economic impact tenuously justified by hypothetical future environmental benefits—it is important that her claims be put to rigorous scrutiny.
As a climate scientist, I tried analyzing some of her assumptions and conclusions on climate change and found them wanting, especially in the very city she represents in Congress.
AOC serves as the U.S. Representative for New York's 14th congressional district, which includes parts of the iconic Bronx and Queens neighborhoods.
New York’s Central Park, sandwiched between Upper Eastside and Upper Westside, is not far from the district AOC represents. Does its climate history match the levels of dangerous warming she claims?
Since records began in 1869, there has been a gradual rise in temperatures. Central Park’s average annual temperature rose by slightly over 4C between 1869 and 2018, or about 0.27 per decade.
The increase in average annual temperatures can be attributed to two major reasons:
- The natural increase in global temperature that has been happening since the end of the Little Ice Age (LIA) in the 18th century. This post-LIA warming is rarely mentioned in public discourses on climate change, but it is a scientifically established fact.
- The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, a phenomenon by which increase in population density and construction in urban areas creates a localized increase in temperature.
In metropolitan areas with high population density, the UHI effect on temperature outweighs the trace minimal level of warming attributed to global CO2 emissions.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration acknowledged that eliminating weather stations free from UHI effect from the record has created a false sense of warming as the ratio of UHI-influenced to UHI-free stations has risen.
However, the modern narrative adopted by the mainstream media and politicians like AOC neglects these critical drivers of temperature changes and focuses on the extremely insignificant levels of warming from anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
Tim Ball, a former professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Winnipeg, rightly identified this disparity when he commented on how the United Nations deliberately played down the influence of UHI in its directives to climate researchers.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deliberately limited climate science to focus on CO2 and temperature. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) directed them only to consider human causes of climate change. They used this to narrow the focus of all variables that create the climate and thus eliminate major variables that cause climate change,” said Ball.
He is right. UHI is one of the major variables the IPCC eliminated or neglected intentionally. New York was subject to rapid development in the 19th and 20th centuries, and there is no doubt that UHI has played a major role in increasing its temperature.
So AOC is wrong not just about the global climate catastrophe but also about the change in climate in the very city she represents. And that is sad, especially when her GND has gained so much support from other politicians.
Elected and future representatives need to take climate science seriously, assessing the matter objectively instead of adopting the popular media narrative.
Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Bangalore, India.