No matter what the towns and villages of eastern Long Island hope to achieve in the coming years, all their plans could be thwarted by the sheer force of climate change.
For example, the future of Greenport’s magnificent port and rich seafaring history will be decided over the next five years. most.
New Mayor Kevin Stuessi knows this. The actions he and his board take over the next few years will determine the path of Greenport—including who can live and work there and whether there will be a working waterfront or vacationer’s playground. There is no turning back for a wrong decision.
Anyone who has been listening to the news lately knows that the Earth has experienced some of the highest temperatures ever recorded. In New York state and New England, violent torrential rains inundated dozens of communities and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage — all paid for by federal relief funds. Fighting the changes wrought by climate change is likely to end up being one of the largest expenditures on the U.S. taxpayer in the coming years.
The heat dome has lifted temperatures in the Southwest to 120 degrees and beyond. The humidity is suffocating. A news report said that thousands of people would die if the power went out in Phoenix, Arizona when the temperature exceeded 100 degrees.
We haven’t experienced those temperatures or terrible storms here, but we’re not an island ourselves. As part of the African continent, we will be affected by what happens elsewhere. And, we will pay the price along with everyone else.
Sea levels in our region are rising. NASA says 30 years of satellite observations “confirm on a global scale what scientists have seen before from coastlines: Sea levels are rising, and at an accelerating rate. Scientists have found that global average sea level has risen by 10.1 centimeters (3.98 inches) since 1992. Over the past 140 years, satellites and tide gauges together show global sea levels have risen by 21 to 24 centimeters (8 to 9 inches).
Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island will have town elections this fall. The new government must prepare for climate change. Strategically, Suffolk County should have a climate change expert and a team studying the future of the coastline. Billions of dollars in real estate are at stake.
The East should have its own equivalent, if not a larger strategy. The North Fork, a narrow arthritic finger that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, appears painfully thin just a few yards from Long Island Sound and Peconic Sound. There is no doubt that rising sea levels will fundamentally change our landscape. The only question is when and how it will change.
Rising water levels can also affect groundwater quality, exposing clean freshwater to saltwater intrusion and reducing withdrawals from public and private wells.
Maybe town codes should be updated to reflect the impact of rising sea levels and water quality on any proposal (big or small) being considered. The words “climate change” and “water supply” should be part of the executive dialogue.
For Riverhead and Southold, the goal moving forward can be summed up in one word: protection. We mean open space, farmland, wooded areas and frontages along creeks, and clean, drinkable groundwater. This is the only way we can move forward, and it will be an effective way to deal with the changes we are already facing.