OP-ED: Keep LI livable in face of climate change

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OP-ED: Keep LI livable in face of climate change

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Our climate is changing and now we must change in order to adapt. Sea levels are rising and our bays are swelling up and taking over what once were safe, dry lands. According to estimates by the New York State Energy and Research Development Agency, sea levels will rise up to 5 inches in the next few years, 12 inches by 2050 and 23 inches by 2080. This is exacerbated by the fact that the East Coast is naturally sinking at the rate of 1 millimeter per year, which is 3 inches by 2080. Not an ideal scenario for this island we call home.  Higher temperatures and increased sea levels will necessitate change. Real change. The south shore of Long Island is especially vulnerable. Communities such as Mastic Beach, Bellport and Patchogue are low-lying areas that are already experiencing increased flooding. The more our bays push on to land, the more they push the fresh water in our aquifers up to the surface. That means more basement flooding and more unusable days for septic systems. Rainstorms, once just an inconvenience, are now flooding streets and basements for hours or days. 

Scientists have predicated that with increased climate change we will experience more intense storms. We are already seeing this on Long Island. Since 2010 we have had several extreme weather events that have brought unprecedented flooding and devastation to our island. The fiercest, of course, was in October 2012, Superstorm Sandy, which caused large-scale damage from its 8.08-foot storm surge and wind gusts of 90 miles per hour. Sandy severely damaged or destroyed 100,000 residential and commercial structures and left more than 2,000 homes uninhabitable. In the winter of 2013, we had several nor’easters that dropped 50 inches of snow on Long Island. Let’s not forget the simple rainstorm in August 2014 that dropped 13.5 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. 

There are other changes that are more subtle. Higher temperatures cause spikes in pollen and ragweed, leaving allergy sufferers more exhausted. The mosquito season is expanded, so both nuisance mosquitoes and disease-carrying mosquitoes have more time to impact us. Hotter days result in less oxygen in our embayments and rivers, adversely impacting fish populations. Warming waters alter fish migration patterns, with species like winter flounder and lobster preferring colder waters, and more warm-water species making their way up to LI, changing the balance of nature in our estuaries.

Long Islanders can lead the way in fighting climate change and in taking steps to adapt.  

We must protect our coastlines by restoring wetlands, marshlands and natural coastlines. These natural systems protect us from flooding and rising sea levels. We must stop the insanity of building on our shores and hardening every inch of coastline with expensive bulkheads. We are already overdeveloped, and continuing to build homes, condo complexes and other infrastructure on the coast puts the public and our economy at great risk.

We also need to curb the effects of climate change by changing the way we produce energy.  Embracing large-scale renewable energies such as solar and wind energy is necessary to transition away from polluting fossil-fuel power plants. New York State has committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 85 percent by 2050 and announced 1,700 MW of new offshore wind. These are ambitious-but-achievable goals. Long Islanders have the most to lose in the battle of climate change, which is why we need to be the biggest advocates for clean energy and resiliency projects. Stand up, show up and speak up to keep Long Island sustainable and livable.