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We must ‘listen to the cry of the Earth’

Hurricane Irma bears down on St. Thomas, USVI.

As the second monster hurricane—Irma—was getting set to hit, we were out sailing on Little Peconic Bay with a friend, a long-time resident of Miami Beach who last year sold her home on that built-up barrier island to move to higher ground in Florida. Looking from the boat at the passing coast and its structures, many all but on the shore, she commented about Long Island, 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 here?

There are efforts on Long Island to do more than its part to discourage the use of fossil fuels.

In March, the Town of Southold was designated a “Clean Energy Community” by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority recognizing the town’s leadership in reducing energy use and promoting clean energy. Last December, the Town of Smithtown became the first Long Island town to receive that designation.

The Town of Riverhead has been promoting the erection of solar panels including on town–owned land.

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 with fossil fuels. These plants, mainly coal-fired plants, generate worldwide many billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere yearly. 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, at a South Fork 100% Renewable Energy Forum in May.

Ed Romaine, who as a county legislator long represented Riverhead and the North Fork, now as Brookhaven Town supervisor has been in the forefront on climate change. As he emphasized in a “State of the Town Address” in March, “We live on an island and have already begun to see some of the effects of our rising seas.” He 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 vehicles, after fossil fueled power plants the second main reason for climate change, he said the town is going to hybrid and electric vehicles. And when President Trump in June pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Mr. Romaine, a Republican, issued a very 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 writer Naomi Klein on 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 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 early 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 said, “No, we say relocate.”

Karl Grossman
Karl is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. Karl lives in Sag Harbor. Email Karl