The news about the climate is bad. Even if you are among those who have tried to disparage global warming, the overwhelming scientific consensus about its causes and the numbers are indisputable: the Earth is getting warmer — and fast. Long Island must prepare for the worst. But it appears that most of the region’s public officials have not gotten the message.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said this week that the extent of sea ice, critical to stabilizing the Earth’s temperature, had been reduced by about 40 percent from 1970s levels, and is now smaller than ever recorded.
Cornell University’s Regional Climate Center reported this month that 2012 was the hottest year on the books for the Northeast since detailed records began to be kept in 1895. Warmer temperatures in the Arctic are expected to contribute to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which will cause acceleration of the rise of sea level. And a hotter planet will cause further sea level rise due to water expansion. Regarding the Arctic, a Rutgers researcher told The New York Times that “climate change is actually doing what our worst fears dictated.”
Separately, two nonprofit organizations joined yesterday to bring attention to how climate change has already altered Fire Island National Seashore and six other federally preserved coastal recreation areas on the East Coast. The greatest dangers, both economic and environmental, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Rocky Mountain Climate Organization said, were from storm surges, the loss of barrier islands, and destroyed roads.
This is of particular relevance to the South Fork of Long Island, where a rising sea will cause massive — and costly — inundations. So far, officials, undoubtedly overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges, have essentially pretended that nothing is happening. Instead of banning new construction and extensive renovations in the danger zones, for example, the Town of Southampton is encouraging the creation of quixotic erosion-control districts along the ocean shoreline. Instead of coming up with a long-term plan for downtown Montauk, the Town of East Hampton has allowed commercial expansion on properties only a few feet above sea level.
For decades now, experts have been cautioning that the only sensible response is managed, orderly retreat. State disaster preparedness officials have been called on for more planning in a series of reports, which have been largely ignored. The last East Hampton Town official to even talk about the rise in sea level was Supervisor Bill McGintee, who was taken up with unacceptable financial manipulation and forced to resign. Since then there has been silence at Town Hall. You have to wonder what it would take for our elected officals wake up.