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Suffolk Closeup: Living on the edge


It’s happening. Climate change is hitting this area.

In Greenport, the dock for Shelter Island’s North Ferry terminal is being raised in response to higher tides — a result of sea level rise caused by global warming and consequent climate change.

In western Suffolk County, in Smithtown, changes are being proposed in the town’s coastal management plan, including restrictions on development in areas likely to be affected by sea level rise. The changes would require that sea level change be considered when siting, designing or approving waterfront projects. They would also require property owners to, when “practical,” move houses threatened by coastal erosion. Constructing “hard structures” on the shore, such as sea walls and rock groins, would only be allowed as a last resort.

In Sag Harbor, the second annual “Living on the Edge in the Face of Climate Change” event has just been held, pairing Kevin McAllister, founding president of the organization Defend H20, and actor and environmental activist Alec Baldwin of Amagansett.

“We are making progress. The level of enlightenment has improved. If we keep the wave going, we’ll get there,” Mr. McAllister said at the event attended by 150 people.

Over the past 40 years, waters surrounding Long Island, Mr. McAllister added, have risen by four inches. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is projecting that, because of climate change, in the next 40 years “we can expect they’ll rise by 11 to 30 inches,” seriously threatening this area.

“We know what we are facing. We know what we need to do,” Mr. Baldwin said. A need is to “convince a critical mass of people as to what they have to do as well.” There’s been “a cascade of unsettling information about the environment,” Mr. Baldwin said, especially about last month’s record heat in the United States.

The Associated Press just reported: “July was the hottest month measured on Earth since records began in 1880, the latest in a long line of peaks that scientists say back up predictions for man-made climate change.”

This is a world-wide climate-change crisis. The headline of a just-out National Geographic article: “A heat wave is turning Greenland’s ice to slush. That’s bad news.” The headline of a June piece in The New York Times: “India Heat Wave, Soaring Up to 123 Degrees.” Also in June, the headline of a Washington Post article: “Potentially historic and deadly summer heat wave to roast Europe.” In February, the USA Today headline was: “Record-shattering ‘unprecedented’ heat scorches Australia, Chile and Argentina.”

Back to this July: “Dangerous Temperatures Grip New York City,” headlined a story in The New York Times. The headline of an Associated Press dispatch last month: “Alaska records its warmest month ever; future records likely.” And in The New York Times two weeks ago: “An Ice-Free Iceland Is Not A Joke.”

Long Island and Shelter Island — aptly nicknamed “The Rock” — are not among the places that will disappear because of climate change. Reader’s Digest has just put together a list of places that because of climate change are “likely to be submerged within the next 80 years.”

These include: 1,000-island Solomon Islands, Palau, Fiji, 600-island Micronesia, the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands, all in the Pacific; the Maldives and also Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. French Polynesia would be inundated. Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay off Maryland would be under water. And so on.

Long Island and Shelter Island won’t vanish, but sitting in a rising sea, their lowland coastal portions will be impacted. On Long Island, “sections will be submerged,” says Mr. McAllister, “including Napeague, Mastic Beach, the Dune Road area of Westhampton.”

A main point Mr. McAllister made at the “Living on the Edge in the Face of Climate Change” event was the importance of dealing with the cause of climate change in addition to its effects.

He questioned the opposition to the South Fork Wind Project and its placement of 15 offshore wind turbines 30 miles out to sea by some people in the Town of East Hampton. This is preferable, said Mr. McAllister, to the U.S. government’s push for drilling in waters off Long Island for a substance that is among the fossil fuels central to why we have climate change: oil. Mr. McAllister said: “Let’s move to the sustainable frontier, and that’s critical.”

More next week.