Suffolk Closeup: Hearing ‘the cry of the earth’

REPORTER FILE PHOTO A scene during Superstorm Sandy from October 2012

REPORTER FILE PHOTO A scene during Superstorm Sandy from October 2012.

As the second monster hurricane of the season was set to strike American shores, we were out sailing on Little Peconic Bay with a friend, a long-time resident of Miami Beach who sold her home on that built-up barrier island to moved to higher ground in Florida.

Looking from the boat at the passing coast and its structures, many built right on the shore, she commented about this area, like Miami Beach, becoming a victim of climate change and the rising sea level and extreme weather it causes.

What’s being done here about this?

There are efforts to discourage the use of fossil fuels. The Towns of East Hampton and Southampton have both committed to renewable energy sources providing 100 percent of the electricity used in both towns, by 2020 in East Hampton and 2025 in Southampton. Solar and offshore wind are to be the main sources.

Solar panels turning sunlight into electricity and wind power are now cheaper, according to a variety of reports issued this year, than generating electricity in plants with fossil fuels. These plants, mainly coal-fired, annually pump many billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

They trap heat and are the main cause of global warming and thus climate change. “If we continue business as usual, we would get into catastrophic and irreversible effects of climate change,” said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island.

In addition to Southampton and East Hampton, other municipalities in Suffolk are taking action. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in recent months recognized the towns of Southold and Smithtown for “reducing energy use” and “driving clean energy locally.”
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, who long represented Shelter Island as a county legislator, has been in the forefront here on climate change.

As he said in a “State of the Town Address” in March, we’ve “already begun to see some of the effects of our rising seas.”

Mr. Romaine spoke of all new home construction in Brookhaven now required to be “solar-ready” and the town replacing its street lights with energy-efficient LED lights. As for  gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, he said the town is going to hybrid and electric vehicles.

In June, when President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Mr. Romaine, a Republican, issued a strong statement criticizing the decision.

The denial that climate change is happening comes despite 2016 being the hottest year on record in 137 years of record-keeping, with the previous record-holders 2015 and 2014, according to a 298-page report of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and American Meteorological Society.

As an article last month in National Geographic noted, the report also found global averages for sea surface temperature — key in feeding hurricanes — and sea level also “reached record highs” while the “extent of Antarctic sea-ice hit record lows.”

“Harvey Didn’t Come Out of the Blue. Now is the Time to Talk About Climate Change,” was the title of an article last week by environmental writer Naomi Klein on The Intercept. “Turn on the coverage of the Hurricane Harvey and the Houston flooding and you’ll hear lots of talk about how unprecedented this kind of rainfall is …. What you will hear very little about is why these kinds of unprecedented, record-breaking weather events are happening with such regularity that ‘record-breaking’ has become a meteorological cliché.” We must focus, Ms. Klein wrote, on climate change “fueling this era of serial disasters …. our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.”

Or as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff wrote last week, Harvey has been “viewed as a gripping human drama, but without adequate discussion of how climate change increases risks of such cataclysms. We can’t have an intelligent conversation about Harvey without also discussing climate change.”

And then came Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.

It’s critical for the world to work together to try to stop what is happening. As Pope Francis, deeply concerned about climate change, says, we must “listen to the cry of the Earth.”

And also, as Dr. Robert Young, coastal geologist and co-author of the “The Rising Sea,” said in a presentation on the East End, people need to “relocate” from vulnerable areas and there should be “incentives” encouraging this. “I don’t say ‘retreat’ anymore.” That’s because Americans don’t like the sound of that word, he explained, “No, we say relocate.”

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