New York State has adopted a relatively aggressive position on climate change and offered a number of resources to local governments. Unfortunately, few Long Island villages or towns have taken advantage of them. Though Albany is often seen as an adversary in these parts, the impacts of a warming atmosphere are predicted to be severe and complex, and local officials will need every bit of help they can get in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and crafting policies.
A tepid response to one state initiative, called Climate Smart Communities, illustrates lack of foresight on Long Island. In Suffolk County, only the towns of Babylon, Brookhaven, Islip, and Smithtown and Port Jefferson Village have signed on. This is despite the program’s making municipalities eligible for faster-track state and federal money for low-carbon technology, efficiency grants, and energy conservation. Joining requires local governments to name an energy coordinator or committee and to develop a climate plan that includes identifying sources of greenhouse gases and setting goals for their reduction and reducing energy consumption by residents and public services. Solar panels have gone up on municipal buildings here and there, which is a sign of hope, but that is far from enough.
Trying to stave off climate change and its effects is only part of the challenge. Based on what already is known, there will be unavoidable flooding, drought, extreme temperatures, and rising sea level. Local governments will need to factor these risks and others into their decision-making. For example, in much of East Hampton Town and in low-lying parts of Southampton, whatever coastal construction is allowed now will largely determine future calls for infrastructure improvements and erosion control — which could entail massive costs to be borne by taxpayers in the future.
Climate change and its impacts are going to be the biggest challenges that will face public officials over the coming decades. The sooner Long Island’s towns and villages start working on sober, comprehensive policies the better. Joining with other governments across New York to share resources and knowledge is one place to start.