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Guest column: Wake up calls

Right now, the pandemic is justifiably foremost in our thoughts. It obviously presents a major, immediate issue for not only our personal health, but it’s a profound concern regarding the well-being of the societies and economies of the entire planet.

But there is also another major crisis looming. Although this crisis been developing over the past 250 years, it hasn’t gained enough widespread acknowledgment and support to combat it.

Yet it has the real potential to be even more devastating than the COVID-19 coronavrius pandemic. Left unchecked, many experts in their fields consider it posing an existential threat to life on Earth as we know it.

Until perhaps the last decade, these concerns were often dismissed, sometimes denied and often regarded as inconsequential and inconvenient. Yet over the years, the vast majority of the world’s scientists and global organizations have taken it very seriously. Even the U.S. military has begun major planning to adjust and adapt.

It is obvious to many that global weather patterns and the climate are changing.

Consider these two current “wake-up calls” to illustrate this developing crisis: the devastating wild fires out west and the record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic this year. In part, both events are being energized by a warming planet, and both are setting records for intensity and frequency.

Millions of acres have been impacted, either burned or flooded; billions of dollars counted in damages; ecosystems and economies destroyed; millions of people devastated; and many killed.

Let’s look at some local, less severe, examples of that trend. Most of us are noticing changes along our shorelines, as well as prolonged dry spells, then heavy rains and localized flooding. (And don’t forget the 1995 fires in the Pine Barrens.)

Even the smaller members of our community — insects, bats, birds and the pollinators — so crucial behind the scenes for our well-being, are also impacted.

And, what about our farmers and fishermen? Crops are being lost due to unpredictable weather; clams, scallops, lobsters, and fish in general are declining or disappearing from our waters. Due to ocean acidification, the entire food chain in our seas is in jeopardy.

This situation is not just occurring on the East End, or just the United States. It’s worldwide.

The arctic, Australia, the Amazon and everywhere in-between are being affected. It’s combining to put our global food supplies and economies at risk. What will happen then?

These changes may be the issue that supersedes all others, and perhaps be irreversible if comprehensive measures are not taken soon. There can be a great future if we transition into a gradually integrated, sustainable economy, minimizing inconvenience and maximizing benefits.

These are just two, of many, wake-up calls that are communicating a very important message. They may be inconvenient and challenging to be sure, but we as a nation could take an international leadership role and make it our greatest success story yet, beyond the man on the moon, beyond the Marshall Plan, beyond a cure for polio and many other great achievements. This is our chance.

But time is running out.

In response to all this, people often ask: ”What can I, or we, do?”

If you haven’t done so already, get more informed, get involved, join a group, contact our officials and representatives, and finally, vote!

One final point: Although this may not always be easy and require compromise, what will the consequences be if our efforts are inadequate?  

There probably won’t be a second chance.

— Islander Herb Stelljes has a master’s degree in biology and additional studies in theoretical ecology.