The Future of Westchester's Environment

Our inconvenient truths.



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From flooding coastlines to fading fauna, the county’s top environmental expert reveals what Westchesterites may expect.

The looming spectre of climate change was driven home for the county’s preeminent environmental expert in a striking bit of irony one hot day in July 2006. “I was at a national conference on natural disasters in Boulder, when my house got hit with a tornado,” says John Nolon, a law professor and faculty liaison to Pace Law School’s nationally acclaimed Land Use Law Center, a training and research facility for environmental and land-use issues. “My wife called and said, ‘You better stop talking about it, and get home and help me clean up!’ It never occurred to us, living along the Hudson in Tarrytown, that we were in an area that might be subjected to a tornado. I mean, I study this on a regular basis, and it even surprised me.”

Ready for other surprises? We asked Nolon for his insight into what our environment will be like in the future, especially if we as citizens maintain the collective status quo.

WEATHER
Tornados in Westchester? You bet. Expect more of them, and other kooky occurrences. “People’s perceptions that storms are getting more severe or wilder—that cold snaps are getting colder, heat waves are getting hotter, rain storms are becoming more intense, and dry spells are lasting longer—are not just people’s imaginations,” Nolon says.

“They’re part and parcel of the consequences of what we’ve done to our planet.”

VEGETATION
Like the vegetation in Delaware? Good. Because, according to Nolon, New York could have the climate—and thus plants—of Delaware in a relatively short period of time. “As the planet warms, certain species of flora indigenous to a specific area will perhaps not thrive, and perhaps even go extinct, while others will then become appropriate and thrive there.”

WILDLIFE
More deer? You bet. Also brace yourself for more crows, raccoons, and coyotes. The reason? “Stressed environments cause an onset of undesirable critters,” Nolon says. “In Tarrytown, we’ve experienced a huge increase in crows, raccoons, coyotes, and deer, while the diversity of wildlife is disappearing,” such as smaller birds and mammals (like song birds and squirrels). “Stress is not good for diversity, and diversity is what wildlife and nature are all about.”

FLOODING
“The concept of a hundred-year flood has become a ten-year flood,” Nolon says. “If you just follow the local press over the last six years, you’ll see we’ve had some very severe flooding incidents in this region, of a magnitude which used to come in a frequency of every fifty to one- hundred years, but are now coming at a rate of every five to ten years.”