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Climate Change

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Today I am going to pull back the curtain and let you see what is going on backstage at the newspaper office. To begin, there is the issue of the newspaper that you are now holding in your hands. You have probably noticed that it looks different from the typical weekly offering. Almost the entire edition is devoted to a single concerning theme. We did this last year for the first time, devoting space to the opioid epidemic that is affecting the ranks of our young. We had hoped to get the conversation going in our communities about this troubling scourge, which too often is hidden away for its stigma. The resulting issue was so positively received that we decided to pick some of the other urgent subjects and, likewise, concentrate attention on them individually from time to time. It is our belief that when the community is unified at recognizing and dealing with a challenge, we can overcome.

The current issue deals with climate change. We are not entering into discussion here about whether or not it is real. Instead we are reporting on changes to our local environment that are taking place, organizations that are tracking and dealing with those changes, governmental programs that have been formed in response to weather-related events and some of the economic effects of the above that touch all of us. We are especially interested, as always, in finding out what our residents are thinking and feeling, and helping you to understand the many aspects of the subject.

We hope we have done that this week. Look on our website for a video that accompanies this theme at tbrnewsmedia.com. We welcome your responses, via email, texts or letters to the editors.

On a more joyful note, we partied hearty Sunday night celebrating the 2016 People of the Year. As you know, we fill the last issue of each year with profiles of those working hard to make our towns and villages the wonderful places that they are. Some of those we salute are rather obvious, some are hidden from sight and largely unappreciated. You, our readers and our reporters who are covering the news have nominated most. We offer the spotlight of publicity to help the winners in their efforts and also to express our appreciation for their ongoing work. We limit the candidates to those who work here, live here or are doing something valuable that makes our lives better.

Then, the following March, in a grand hands-across-the-community collaboration, the Three Village Inn, Stony Brook University and Times Beacon Record News Media throw a fun party for the winners in Brookhaven Town and their guests, along with community leaders and some previous winners. Framed certificates and explanations are offered at that time. It’s a perfect setting for productive cross-pollination of ideas and resources, and sometimes the Inn has to urge us out because guests are reluctant to leave the conversations at the end. Normally we would run some of the photos from the party kindly taken by Setauket resident Bev Tyler in the following issue to remind readers of the winners, but that feature will have to await next week’s edition.

Also, did you know that nine first ladies among the 45 so far were born in New York state? That’s a concentration of 20 percent born in what amounts to 2 percent of the union. And they are a fascinating bunch, with stories surrounding them all. We have made a video of them, “The Ladies of Liberty,” narrated by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan, complete with photographs and artifacts, and we showed a bit of it at the party. If you would like to use the video at fundraisers or other group meetings, ask us for the link. It’s free, it’s a service we offer, it runs for about an hour and it’s engaging for the history painlessly learned. Or you can view it soon on YouTube or our website.

So that is some of what has been happening in our world.

  

Image by TBR News Media.
Image by TBR News Media.

By Victoria Espinoza

Fishing is a nearly $2 billion industry on Long Island, bringing hundreds of jobs to Suffolk County annually. Rising water temperature has the potential to drastically change the business.

Water temperatures have been consistently increasing, and scientists and professionals said this trend could disrupt and permanently alter the species of fish that reside in local waters.

Lobster

More than twenty years ago, Northport and other coastal towns and villages on Long Island enjoyed a prosperous lobster fishing market. Flash forward to 2017, and that market is a distant memory. In the late 1990s, the lobster population effectively “died out” in the Long Island Sound. Kim McKown, unit leader for marine invertebrates and protected resources for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said at the time scientists declared it “a  commercial fishing disaster.”

“Researchers felt that it was the perfect storm,” McKown said in a phone interview. She said studies done concluded increased water temperatures led to added stress for lobsters, which affected their immune system and caused their demise. It was discovered lobsters in the Sound had suffered from hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in the water. Hypoxia is caused by warmer water, as warm water is able to hold less oxygen than cold — and this condition can also cause an increase in nitrogen levels, another harmful effect on fish. Hypoxia has occurred in the summer months in the Sound for decades, varying in longevity and density.

According to the Long Island Sound Study, “Sound Health 2012,” conducted by the NYSDEC, the area where hypoxia occurred in that summer “was the fifth largest since 1987 — 289 square miles, about 13 times the size of Manhattan.” It also lasted “80 days, 23 more than average between the years 1987 and 2012.” As water temperature levels rise, so does the duration of hypoxia in the water.

“Water temperatures were so high [then], scientists also found a new disease in lobster.”

—Kim McKown

“Water temperatures were so high [then], scientists also found a new disease in lobster,” McKown said. The disease was calcinosis, which results in calcium deposits forming crystals in the lobsters’ antenna glands. It was discovered in the remains of dead lobsters.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the organization tracking lobster population in southern New England, including the Long Island Sound, the population has continued to dwindle since the late ’90s. A record low population count occurred in 2013 and the organization said the stock is “severely depleted.”

“These declines are largely in response to adverse environmental conditions including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years,” the ASMFC said in a study.

Huntington fishing captain James Schneider substantiated the data based on his own observations, saying the lobster population has not bounced back in full since then, although he has started to see more in recent years.

Winter flounder

Lobsters are not the only species in the Sound impacted by increased water temperatures. “Ask any fisherman the last time they caught a winter flounder,” Mark Tedesco, the director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office, said in a phone interview. “They’ll probably tell you, boy, there aren’t too many of them out there.”

Tedesco’s claim was backed up by another captain. “Winter flounder have been diminished big time,” Northport fishing captain Stuart Paterson said in a phone interview.

He remembers fishing for winter flounder all the time as a kid in the spring and the fall. That’s no longer the case. “It’s really been a shame,” he said.

The ASMFC’s tracking of winter flounder proves the fish has had a species dip mirroring the southern New England lobster. In 1984 winter flounder landing, or total catch, was at almost 35 million pounds. In 2010 the winter flounder hit their lowest landing total — just 3.5 million pounds.

“The flounders are on the same levels as the lobsters, it’s a slow and grueling comeback,” Schneider said. He also said he saw winter flounder suffering from a familiar foe — hypoxia and increased levels of nitrate.

The reason for the disappearing fish is indicated  in its name — a winter flounder has a hard time thriving in a Long Island Sound with warming temperatures. The ASMFC cites habitat degradation as one of the reasons the population has decreased, along with overfishing and low genetic variability.

That’s not to say all flounder species are vanishing from the water. Fishermen agree flukes, also known as summer flounder, are seeing steady growth.

“There is a lot more fluke flounder than there used to be,” Paterson said. “Their stock is vibrant.”

The trend is not surprising to the Long Island Sound Study. “Many cold water species common in Long Island Sound have been declining in abundance over the last two decades, while many warm water fishes have been increasing,” its “Sound Health 2012” report stated.

“Historic sea surface temperature data…show[s] a significant warming trend along the U.S. coast… that exceeds local atmospheric temperature increases and is comparable to the warming rates of the Arctic.”

—University of Connecticut study

Lori Severino, public information officer for the NYSDEC said in an email as black sea bass numbers have increased, fish like winter flounder have dwindled.

“A number of colder water species have declined, including American lobster and the winter flounder,” she said.

Long Island Sound Study leader Tedesco said he wouldn’t rule out the possible impact of water temperatures in the shifts in population of fish species in the Sound.

“Fishermen are used to seeing changes in populations, and sometimes that’s because of fishing pressure but it can also be because of these larger changes in climate,” Tedesco said.

The future of species in the Sound is far from clear if climate change continues and water temperatures continue to rise.

“It’ll change the mix of species,” Tedesco said. “You had one species [lobsters] that were obviously important
to humans, but also helped structure the 
environment in the Long Island Sound. You lose that and there are other species that will take its place — and we’ll see that [happening] if waters continue to warm. Some species will get a competitive advantage over others.”

In a study conducted by the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection and the University of Connecticut from 1984 to 2008, it was proven — from tracking finfish in the Sound — water temperatures were causing warm water fish species to increase and cold water fish species to decrease. It also confirmed average catch in the spring has significantly decreased throughout the years — when the water is colder — while mean catch in the fall has increased, when the water is warmer.

“Collectively the abundance of cold-adapted species declined significantly over the time series in both spring and autumn,” the study found. “In contrast the abundance of warm-adapted species increased.”

The Connecticut research also said the trend in the Long Island Sound is consistent with trends and forecasts at larger biogeographic scales.

“Historic sea surface temperature data recorded from 1875 to 2007 show a significant warming trend along the U.S. coast north of Cape Hatteras [North Carolina] that exceeds local atmospheric temperature increases and is comparable to the warming rates of the Arctic,” the study continued. “It should be expected that the warming trend along the northeastern coast will continue.”

NYSDEC spokesperson Severino agreed North Shore water is rapidly warming.

“The western north Atlantic, Long Island Sound included, is one of the fastest warming places on the earth,” she said.

And the fishermen on Long Island may be discovering firsthand what a more powerful predatory species could do to diversity among fish in the Sound.

Black sea bass

“The problem is the predation from the black sea bass, we see lobster antenna in their mouths when we catch them,” Schneider said. “They’re expanding and spreading.”

His fellow North Shore fisherman agreed. “They’re eating everything — they eat juvenile everything,” Paterson said. “I would say [black sea bass] is 200 percent above even where they were last year.”

Severino, confirmed the warming water temperature in the Sound has played a part in the black sea bass population increase.

“Black sea bass are aggressive, highly opportunistic predators feeding on everything from amphipods to crabs to squid to fish.”

—Lori Servino

“Shifts in the distribution in the number of fish possibly associated with warming waters have been seen over the last decade,” she said in an email. “Generally, fish formerly associated with the Mid-Atlantic [area] are now more prominent in southern New England, including … the Long Island Sound. Black sea bass is an example of this.”

Severino also agreed black sea bass can be a formidable carnivore.

“Black sea bass are aggressive, highly opportunistic predators feeding on everything from amphipods to crabs to squid to fish,” she said. Further upstate in New York, the same changes in aquatic life are happening.

Hemlock forests, known for the shade and cool temperatures, have been declining due to an increase of an invasive insect population that’s thriving due to warmer winters. As hemlock habitats decline, so do New York state’s fish — and the brook trout that rely on that habitat.

“The loss of brook trout will cause changes in New York’s fishing economy and may have disproportionate effects on small, fishing-dependent communities in which millions of dollars are spent by tourists who come to fish for trout,” a study entitled “Responding to Climate Change in New York State” said. The report was carried out by Columbia University, CUNY and Cornell University for the state Energy Research and Development Authority. “Hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing make significant contributions to New York state’s economy. More than 4.6 million people fish, hunt or wildlife watch in the state, spending $3.5 billion annually.”

The future of the Long Island Sound remains uncertain, but in a warming climate the one thing guaranteed is change.

Beetles, which thrive in warmer temperatures, are threatening pine trees

Residents from Cutchogue work together to place sand bags at the edge of the Salt Air Farm before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photo by Prudence Heston

While surrounded by salt water, Long Island is in the midst of a drought that is heading into its third year. Amid a trend towards global warming, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to water district superintendents throughout Suffolk and Nassau County to ask them to lower their water consumption by 15 percent in the next three to four years.

“The primary area that is ripe for reduction is summertime watering,” said Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC. The department has asked the water districts to reduce consumption, but it’s up to the districts to determine how they will reach those goals, he said.

The letter, written by Tony Leung, the regional water engineer, indicated that “results for 2015 show both Nassau and Suffolk County have exceeded the safe yield as cited in the 1986 Long Island Groundwater Management Program,” and that “a concerted effort is needed to reduce peak season water demand.”

The letter, which doesn’t cite global warming, indicates that salt water intrusion, contaminant plumes migration, salt water upconing and competing demand have raised concerns about a need to reduce peak season water demand.

Observers suggested the demand was likely rising for a host of reasons, including increased use of underground irrigation systems and a rise in the population of Long Island.

Water experts welcomed the DEC’s initiative, which is one of many steps Long Islanders can and are taking to respond to a changing environment.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use…They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

— Sarah Meyland

Sarah Meyland, the director of the Center for Water Resources Management and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology, commended the DEC for asserting control over water withdrawals.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use,” Meyland said. “They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

She admitted changing consumer behavior will be challenging.

The first step in ensuring water suppliers meet this request, Meyland suggested, is to inform the public about the need for less water use, particularly during the summer months. One possible solution is for irrigation systems that turn off automatically after a rainstorm.

The change in climate has posed a threat to trees that commonly grow on Long Island.

Pine trees have faced an invasion from the southern pine beetle, which extended its range onto Long Island in 2014 and is now a pest that requires routine managing and monitoring.

Long the scourge of pine trees in southern states, the pine beetle, which is about the size of a grain of rice, has found Long Island’s warmer climate to its liking.

“We’re assuming either [Hurricane] Irene or Sandy brought it in,” said John Wernet, a supervising forester at the DEC. “Because it’s getting warmer, the beetle has been able to survive farther north than they have historically.”

Forestry professionals in the south have waged a battle against the beetle for years, trying to reduce the economic damage to the timber market. On Long Island, Wernet said, they threaten to reduce or destroy the rare Pine Barrens ecosystem.

The beetle can have three or four generations in a year and each generation can produce thousands of young.

The first step relies on surveying trees to find evidence of an infestation. Where they discover these unwanted pests, they cut down trees and score the bark, which creates an inhospitable environment for the beetle.

“If left alone, the beetle is like a wildfire and will keep going,” Wernet said. Without direct action, that would be bad news for the pine warbler, a yellow bird that lives near the tops of pine trees, he said.

Wernet added Long Island’s drought also increases the risk of
wildfires.

Farmers, meanwhile, have had to contend with warmer winters that trick their crops into growing too soon while also handling the curveballs created by unexpected cold snaps, frosts, and the occasional nor’easter.

Dan Heston and Tom Wickham survey waters that entered Salt Air Farm after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Prudence Heston

Last year, the colored hydrangeas of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue budded early amid warmer temperatures in March, only to perish amid two eight-degree nights.

“We lost [thousands of dollars] worth of hydrangeas in two nights,” said Dan Heston, who works on the farm with his wife Prudence, whose family has been farming on Long Island for 11 generations. “Our whole colored hydrangea season was done.”

Heston said he’s been a skeptic of climate change, but suggested he can see that there’s something happening with the climate on Long Island, including the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, which flooded areas that were never flooded during large storms before.

“I think the climate is shifting on Long Island,” Prudence Heston explained in an email. “Farmers are constantly having to adapt to protect their crops. In the end, pretty much every adaptation a farmer makes boils down to climate.”

Changes on Long Island, however, haven’t all been for the worse. Warmer weather has allowed some residents to grow crops people don’t typically associate with Long Island, such as apricots and figs. For three generations, Heston’s family has grown apricots.

Other Long Islanders have attempted to grow figs, which are even more sensitive to Long Island winters, Heston said. This was not an economically viable option, as each plant required individual wrapping to survive. That hasn’t stopped some from trying.

“People are now finding our winters to be warm enough to make [figs] a fun back yard plant,” Prudence Heston said.

In other positive developments, the Long Island Sound has had a reduction in hypoxia — low oxygen conditions — over the last decade, according to Larry Swanson, the interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

“The state and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to a nitrogen reduction program,” Swanson said. “It appears that the decline in nitrogen may be having a positive effect.”

Brookhaven Town took a similar step in 2016.

The town board approved a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) last summer that established nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems.

Ryan Madden from the Long Island Progressive Coalition leads a march calling for renewable energy in the form of wind. Photo from Ryan Madden

Scientists and politicians are relied upon to do the bulk of the work to reduce the effects and pace of climate change, but local activist organizations on Long Island are taking on the burden as well.

“I think it’s really important for grassroots and local solutions to tackle this crisis — to be at the forefront of the solutions,” Ryan Madden, with the Long Island Progressive Coalition said. “A lot of the problems we see in this country, in New York State and on Long Island, whether it’s rampant income inequality, access to education, just issues of local pollution and ailments related to the combustion of fossil fuels, all of this connects into a larger system that informs why climate change is a problem in the first place.”

The LIPC, a community-based grassroots organization that works on a range of issues related to sustainable development as well as achieving social, racial and economic justice, has a program for improving energy efficiency. The group helps low- to moderate-income homeowners take advantage of free energy assessments and obtain financial resources to be able to go through energy-efficient retrofits and ultimately help reduce carbon footprints. The organization also recently entered the solar arena.

Members of Sustainable Long Island’s youth-staffed farmers market in New Cassel. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“It’s part of a larger push to democratize our energy system so that communities have a say in the build out of renewable energy and have ownership or control over the systems themselves,” Madden said. “We’re pushing for constructive and far-reaching changes, which is what we think is needed in this time.”

Madden added he has fears about the future because of comments President Donald Trump (R) has made in the past regarding climate change and his previously stated belief it is a hoax. Trump signed an executive order March 28 that served as a rollback of the Clean Power Plan, an initiative meant to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The order infringes on commitments to the Paris Agreement, a universal, legally binding global climate deal.

“We’re trying to meet that with really bold, visionary climate policy that has a wide range of economic transformative impacts, while also remaining on the ground helping homeowners and institutions make that switch through energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Madden said.

Other organizations like the Sierra Club, a nonprofit, are also focused on renewable energy, but in the form of offshore wind.

“Offshore wind is the best way to meet our need for large-scale renewable energy that can help us fight climate change and provide good jobs for New Yorkers, but we aren’t used to getting our energy this way in the United States,” Sierra Club organizer Shay O’Reilly said. “Instead, we’re used to relying on dirty fossil fuels, and our energy markets and production systems are centered on these ways of producing electricity.”

Gordian Raacke, with Renewable Energy Long Island also works on this front. He and his group advocated for and eventually convinced the Long Island Power Authority to do a study on offshore wind power.

“January of this year, LIPA agreed to sign a contract for New York’s first, and the country’s largest, offshore wind project,” he said.

New York Renews hosted a town hall to get community members together to talk about climate change issues. Photo from Ryan Madden

Deepwater Wind will build and operate the 90-megawatt project 30 miles east of Montauk Point in the Atlantic Ocean. The project will generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.

In 2012, the group also commissioned a study to evaluate whether Long Island could generate 100 percent of its annual electricity consumption from renewable energy sources. The study, The Long Island Clean Electricity Vision, showed that it would not only be possible, but also economically feasible.

Currently, the LIPC has a campaign to pass the Climate and Community Protection Act in New York State, which would decarbonize all sectors of New York’s economy by 2050, redirect 40 percent of all state funding to disadvantaged communities — which would decrease pollution over decades — and ensure a transition away from fossil fuels.

These topics and others are taught in classes at Stony Brook University under its Sustainability Studies Program. Areas of study include environmental humanities, anthropology, geology, chemistry, economy, environmental policies and planning. Students do hands-on and collaborative work and take on internships in the field. They also clear trails and develop businesses to help increase sustainability among other hands-on initiatives.

“Our mission is to develop students who become leaders in sustainability and help to protect the Earth,” Heidi Hutner, director of the program said. “Climate change and pollution is the most important issue facing us today. We have to find a way to live on this planet and not totally destroy it and all of its creatures. Our students are skilled in many different ways, going into nongovernmental or not-for-profit organizations, becoming law professors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, educators, but all focused on the environment. A former student of ours is the sustainability director at Harvard Medical School.”

Students from the program organized to march in the People’s Climate March in 2014, and will be doing so again April 29. The purpose of the march is to stand up to the Trump administration’s proposed environmental policies.

Students and staff at East Islip High School work with Sustainable Long Island to build a rain garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

Undergraduates in the program also work closely with environmentally active local legislators like state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), and county Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). There is also a Sierra Club on campus.

The LIPC regularly hosts round tables to show other environmental groups what it’s up to and town halls to let community members share their stories and even visit assembly members to lobby for support. Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit founded in 1998 that specialized in advancing economic development, environmental health and social equality for Long Island, also focuses on low-income communities through its programs.

Food equality and environmental health are the group’s biggest areas of concentration because according to Gabrielle Lindau, the group’s director of communications, the issues are tied to each other.

“There is a polarization here on Long Island,” she said. “We have extremely rich communities, and then we have extremely poor communities.”

According to Lindau, 283,700 people receive emergency food each year, so Sustainable LI builds community gardens and hosts youth-staffed farmers markets to combat the problem.

“It’s a game-changer for low income communities,” she said. “These communities gardens are great because they give people access to fresh, healthy food, and it also puts the power in their hands to find food and also, the learning skills to be able to grow that food. It’s also a paid program, so it’s giving them an opportunity to earn what they’re working toward.”

The youth-staffed farmers markets, which began in 2010, have been a real catalyst for change in communities like Farmingdale, Roosevelt, Freeport, Flanders, New Castle and Wyandanch where access to fresh food is not a given.

Children help Sustainable Long Island build a community garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“We have so much farming going on out east here on Long Island and I don’t think people who live here ever step back to look at all the food we have here in our own backyard,” Lindau said. “These markets are an incredible program because they’re not only teaching kids in communities about agriculture where they wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to do that, but they’re also teaching them financial literacy skills, and, at the same time, they’re bringing in healthy food items to their neighbors.”

Shameika Hanson a New York community organizer on Long Island for Mothers Out Front, an organization that works to give women a voice for change — empowering and providing them with skills and resources to get decision makers and elected officials to act on their behalf — does specific work with climate change, also calling for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. As a national organization, the topics range depending on the needs of an area from getting methane gas leaks plugged, to stopping oil trains for moving through the area, to getting involved in carbon offsets. Specifically on Long Island, women are creating a task force to ensure the drinking water quality across the island is standardized.

“Democracy doesn’t work without civic engagement,” Hanson said. “There’s a need for a conversation to happen that is united. Even though the water authorities are separate, the water isn’t.”

Sustainable Long Island also works on building rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff into local waters.

“We’re in a dire situation here on Long Island when it comes to our aquifers,” Lindau said. “We have an intense amount of nitrogen that’s already going into the ground.”

The nonprofit works with the Environmental Resource Management Foundation and PSEG Foundation and builds rain gardens like the one at the Cove Animal Rescue in Glen Cove and others in East Islip and Long Beach.

“It’s about educating communities on the importance of the rain garden and why green infrastructure practices are pivotal for environmental health on Long Island moving forward,” Lindau said. “If we don’t have clean drinking water, we’re going to be in trouble, if we don’t have usable soil to plant in, we’re not going to have farms growing the produce we need to survive and if we don’t have that produce, then we’re not going to be able to bring food into these low-income communities for people who can’t get it otherwise. They’re all connected in a number of different ways and a lot of them root back to health.”

Students in Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program participate in the 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC. Photo from Heidi Hutner

Sustainable Long Island has done work with local municipalities following superstorms like Hurricane Sandy. They helped communities rebuild, hosted peer-to-peer education meetings to better prepare locals and business owners for another devastating storm and provided job training to bring businesses back.

“A big part of this is going into communities and educating them and helping to advocate in order to facilitate change,” Lindau said. “Working with other groups is extremely important as well. We’re not a lone wolf in the nonprofit world — we not only find it important to work with governments and other municipalities — but to connect with other nonprofits who have something unique to offer as well.”

Melanie Cirillo, with the Peconic Land Trust, reiterated the need for local organizations to team up. The Peconic Land Trust conserves open space like wetlands, woodlands and farmland. It keeps an eye on water quality and infrastructure like Forge River in Mastic, which is a natural sea sponge that absorbs storm surge.

“Wetlands are key in so many of our waterfront properties,” she said. “We have a finite amount of drinking water that we need to protect for our own health. The protection of land is integral to the protection of the water.”

She said although every organization may have a bit of a different focus, they’re all working under the same umbrella and premise, with the same goal in mind: maintaining the health of Long Island.

“I think it’s important for groups to have the ability to bring people together, especially because the impact of climate change affects people in a lot of different ways, whether it’s high energy costs, the impact of superstorms like Hurricane Sandy, sea level rise or coastal erosion, or ocean acidification that impacts people’s fishery and economic way of life,” Madden said. “We have to meet the immediate visceral needs of people — of communities and workers — but we also need to be thinking decades ahead on what it will take to decarbonize our entire economic system. It’s really important for groups to be oriented toward that long term focus, because this is an all hands on deck situation.”

This version corrects the spelling of Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program Director Heidi Hutner’s last name.

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Sills Gully Beach, Shoreham:

Sills Gully Beach in Shoreham is a prime example of erosion due to storm events, according to Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “When you harden the shoreline by constructing hundreds of linear feet of vertical retaining walls or bulkheads, you create a condition where the energy stored in the waves caused by tidal surge and storm events hits up against the hardening structure and reflects back to the Sound,” Bonner said. “These reflected waves cause scour at the base of the bulkhead and a loss of sand from the beach. To minimize this impact, both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the town require armor stone, big rocks, in front of any bulkhead to dissipate the reflected wave surge, reducing the impact that bulkheads have on the beaches.” According to the councilwoman, bulkheads that were constructed in the past “increased the rate of erosion but also separated the beach from its natural sand source.” The practice led to either a narrow or non-existing beach during high tide. With recent changes of bulkheads being moved landward or reducing their elevations, plus the installation of armor stones, erosive impacts have been reduced, and “the beaches tend to be wider and more resilient to storm events.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Port Jefferson Village:

Port Jefferson was originally known as Drowned Meadow because the area that now comprises most of the commercial district was a marsh that flooded every high tide, according to the book “Images of America: Port Jefferson,” written by Port Jefferson library staffers Robert Maggio and Earlene O’Hare. They wrote, “That flooding, and the steep hills and deep ravines that surrounded the marsh, made farming difficult, and the village grew slowly. In fact, by 1800, there were only a handful of houses.”

 

Photo by Maria Hoffman

Setauket Harbor:

In the last decade, Shore Road along Setauket Harbor has flooded approximately a half a dozen times a year, which is more than in the past due to astronomical tides. “All coastal communities will be increasingly impacted by rising sea level, and sea level rise goes hand in hand with climate change,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said. “One way to identify the areas that will be impacted is to look at the areas that are now impacted by storms and astronomical tides. All the low-level shore areas in the Three Village community are the most vulnerable. And, they tend to be the areas that we like to go down to, along the shore, such as beaches and docks and harbor areas. It is projected that in the next hundred years as sea level continues to rise that we will see portions of Route 25A flooding during storm events that we haven’t seen before.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Nissequogue River, Smithtown:

According to Jan Porinchak, educator and naturalist, the Nissequogue River watershed would be threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. The river consists of two main branches that start near the southern boundaries of the town in Hauppauge, and then the water flows into the Sound. “Rising sea levels will drown out the native marsh grasses which dissipate wave action and anchor the sediments comprising the shoreline,” Porinchak said. “With the marsh grasses such as Spartina removed, areas further inland would be threatened with shoreline loss from erosion.” Erosion can also have a negative impact on marine species. “With rising sea levels compromising marsh land vegetation, salt water can reach the roots of non-salt-tolerant woody plants further inland, which kills those plant species,” he said. “This creates a domino effect, resulting in yet more erosion when the roots of those plants are eliminated. Increased sediment from these eroded areas will wash into the Nissequogue and similar ecosystems. This sediment can negatively impact shellfish and other marine species, and fuel algae blooms to the widespread detriment of the marine food web.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Long Beach, Smithtown:

Visitors to Smithtown’s Long Beach, a narrow land spit, will find an artificial berm to keep stormwater out during the winter. Many of the private roads slightly east of the town beach experience flooding when it’s high tide. Larry Swanson, interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said the cause of the problem is the disruption of sediment due to a combination of rising sea levels and homeowners building sea walls to protect their property. “Long Beach is a spit that needs sediment supplied from the erosion of the bluffs of Nissequogue,” he said. “There are places where the supply is somewhat diminished to maintain sufficient elevation, perhaps where currents are stronger than elsewhere water can overflow.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Asharoken, Huntington:

The incorporated village of Asharoken in the Town of Huntington provides the only essential land access way contacting the Eaton’s Neck peninsula to Northport, with its Asharoken Avenue. Due to hurricanes and nor’easters, the Long Island Sound side of the peninsula has experienced moderate to severe beach erosion. In 2015 the Asharoken village board took into consideration a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-backed proposal to replenish the community’s eroding beaches. The plan consisted of creating a berm and dune system with groins on the northwestern end of the project area. The area includes properties on the Long Island Sound side of Asharoken Avenue. However, in January Asharoken officials voted to bring an end to the restoration project after many residents rejected part of the plan that included creating public access points at certain private properties, which would leave residents liable for any injuries or mishaps that happened when the public was on the shoreline of the property.

Supervisor Ed Romaine is taking a leadership role in trying to streamline town government services. File photo by Erika Karp

Town, county and state officials on both sides of the aisle agree that climate change poses a real threat to Long Island. That’s why they’re taking serious steps to address the issue, protect the environment and work to save the region from projected devastation.

In his March 24 State of the Town Address, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) devoted more time to the environment than any other issue, outlining measures taken by Brookhaven to reflect the growing threats of climate change, and sea level rise especially — noting the town has the largest coastline of any in the state.

Romaine said the town will continue working to restore its wetlands and limit residential and commercial development to such critical floodplain areas, among several other initiatives to prepare for the challenges ahead.

“It’s a wake up call if we don’t sound the alarm now and come together,” Romaine said in a phone interview. “Whatever I can do, I’m on board. I wish more people in my party shared that belief … but I’m absolutely dedicated to this because I’m a human being living on this planet that’s being threatened every day. Five of the past six years have been the warmest on record. It’s time to wake up.”

Building on ambitious goals set in the past — like cutting the town’s greenhouse gas emission by 50 percent by the year 2020 as proposed in his five-year capital plan two years ago — he said the town plans to replace 35,000 streetlights with energy-efficient LED lights within the next two years to save costs and reduce its carbon footprint; will continue to replace aging cars with hybrid, fuel-efficient models; has already revised its solar code to prevent deforestation and clear cutting of trees; and has instituted wind, solar and geothermal codes, requiring new residential home construction to be “solar ready.”

Resources to help make homes energy efficient 

•Free energy audit:

Long Island Green Homes Initiative is a public-private partnership that offers homeowners a professional energy audit at no cost. It provides an easy-to-use website coupled with energy navigators that help answer any questions a homeowner has and schedule a free home energy assessment providing an in-depth analysis of a home’s energy efficiency. Visit www.longislandgreenhomes.org.

•Carbon footprint calculator:

Cool Climate, a program started at the University of California, Berkley, offers a webpage to help estimate  your carbon footprint. Visit http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/carboncalculator to find out yours.


•No-cost energy upgrades:

EmPower New York provides free energy efficiency solutions to income-eligible New Yorkers. Whether you own your home or rent, a participating contractor will be assigned to you to assess if your home would benefit from free energy upgrades such as:

-Air sealing to plug leaks and reduce drafts

-Insulation to make your home more comfortable all year round

-Replacement of inefficient refrigerators and freezers

-New energy-efficient lighting

-Plus, free health and safety checks of your smoke detectors, appliances and more. Visit www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/EmPower-New-York.

•Solar energy incentives:

The NY-Sun Incentive Program provides financial incentives to help reduce the installation costs associated with solar electric systems. Incentives are based on building sector and size (residential, small commercial and large commercial/industrial), and within each sector, there are different incentives for specific regions of NY. Income-eligible households may qualify for a program that lowers the up-front cost of installing solar for a homeowner, double incentives for certain households and free home energy improvements. Visit www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/NY-Sun/About.

Neighboring towns Smithtown and Huntington are also investing in their community’s environmental future. Smithtown was named the first town in New York State to be a clean energy community, and Huntington soon followed. This means both towns completed several high-impact clean energy actions like saving energy costs, creating jobs to improve the environment and more, and are now qualified for grants to further clean energy improvement in the area.

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who served on the county’s Climate Action Plan Committee, is no stranger to pushing aggressive energy and sustainability initiatives herself, like her seawater rise vulnerability bill introduced in 2013.

Although she feels as though there has not been a sense of immediate crisis when it comes to climate change among Long Island residents, she said it’s important for people to recognize the effects it will have on coastal communities and low-lying villages like Port Jefferson, Stony Brook and Setauket Harbor.

Hahn is passionate about increasing sewer districts and eventually switching to alternative on-site wastewater systems that remove nitrogen from wastewater altogether.

Only about 30 percent of Suffolk County uses a sewer system, she said, and the remaining 70 percent are antiquated septic cesspool systems, meaning “every time we flush, the nitrogen in most of our homes or businesses is going right into our drinking water … and eventually surface waters.”

Recently the county has followed the lead of states like Massachusetts in switching over to these new systems in pilot projects. Hahn, with the help of her colleagues and a funding stream to help with the costs, is working on a plan to make these alternative on-site wastewater systems a requirement in Suffolk.

Across the island in Huntington, Leg. William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) also wants to protect clean water from contamination. As the lead sponsor of the Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection Act — a bi-county legislation that controls drilling into the aquifer and protecting the water for the next 50 years — Spencer said further damage to the water would be a tragic event.

“We have to be aggressive,” Spencer said. “We have a program at the Southwest Sewer District, where we’re trying to reduce fossil fuels and pollution by taking sludge from cesspools and reconstituting that into the fuel oil, instead of burning so much regular fossil fuels. We’re working on reducing nitrogen pollution within the ground, as well as working with Brookhaven National Lab looking for clean forms of energy.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said as a North Shore native her main concern has been erosion and stormwater management.

“So much here has to do with erosion from Superstorm Sandy and I’m always very concerned about these intense, ferocious storms we have and the damage created from them,” she said. “When we’re able to really significantly improve our stormwater infrastructure, the trickle down effect is that improved water quality helps not only recreation but people who derive their income from the bays and the sound.”

According to state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the leading environmental voice in the Assembly, the superstorm and recent high tides gave Long Island residents a preview of what an elevated water table would look like in the North Shore’s harbor areas like Port Jefferson, Huntington and Nissequogue.

But as New Yorkers, he said, we have an opportunity to set an example for the rest of the country in demonstrating a strong push for climate change initiatives.

“New York can sometimes be relied upon as a model for our sister states to examine and, in some cases, to reflect similar initiatives in their own legislatures,” Englebright said. “If we can do it here, we can demonstrate that it’s doable. Fifty-three percent of the population of our nation lives within 50 miles of ocean water — half of the nation is coastal. Implementing a more widespread use of renewable energy is one of the strongest directions we should try to move our communities toward in order to basically save our island from the ravages of an ever-increasing level of the ocean around us and the shrinking of our shorelines.”

As chairman of the Committee of Environmental Conservation, one of Englebright’s first assignments was to organize a climate advisory task force made up of legislators and set up a series of hearings. Based on the testimonies he received, the assemblyman wrote the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, legislation first introduced last year and re-introduced again this year.

The bill addresses and mitigates the impacts of climate change in the state. While it’s still a work-in-progress, it has already been heralded by many environmental voices as a significant national model for state action.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“It sets out goals and objectives to begin to reduce our greenhouse gas output, track it more effectively, and establish a series of greenhouse gas emission regulations … [as well as] focuses on disadvantaged communities that have suffered from the effect of the carbon-based economy in a disproportionate way,” he said.

Englebright added residents can probably cut energy usage in the state by as much as 30 percent just with insulation and utilizing thermal windows.

“That’s a thrust I think is prominent in the vision and reach of this bill,” he said. “It sets goals to establish implemental capacity levels for going to renewable systems, be it solar or wind or geothermal. We want to move toward having a 30 percent capacity by 2020 and a 40 percent goal by 2025, and a 50 percent goal by 2030. It’s a very ambitious goal but if you don’t start to move in that direction, then the status quo is likely to be the best you can hope for … and the status quo right now will bring us rising sea levels, increased storm frequency and invasion of disease-carrying insects [like ticks that didn’t used to live at this latitude].”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is adamant to address the restoration of Long Island’s coastal and natural defenses, including coastal vegetation, which he said acts as a natural storm barrier. The vegetation has been decimated due to the nitrogen pollution being pumped into our waterways, the county executive said, but there is good news.

“We know ecosystems have the ability to restore themselves if you remediate the pollution,” he said. “We need to learn to live better with water and put in the infrastructure that adapts to climate change. Post-Sandy, we’ve been raising houses up so they’re not going to be vulnerable to flooding. We can no longer sustain a continual year-after-year decline in water quality in this region.”

Bellone, who has been working closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and his team to fund wetlands restoration projects, said he’s concerned about the federal government’s retreat from addressing climate change.

“That’s just insanity,” Bellone said. “It doesn’t make sense to ignore the science on this. For all of us on Long Island, climate change can fundamentally change our quality of life and no one wants to see that happen. We need to do everything we can to address this issue.”

Scenes of destruction after Hurricane Sandy hit the North Shore. File photo

Climate change is going to cost us. The prohibitive costs in both dollars and loss of life for past hurricanes in the New York area might be just the beginning if recent trends continue.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based nonprofit whose mission is to “safeguard” the Earth, the cost of ignoring climate change will be as high as 3.6 percent of gross domestic product — hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs and water costs alone could cost the United States as much as $1.9 trillion annually by 2100.

For Long Island the first two pose the greatest risk.

Sea level has been rising consistently for the past several decades and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation predicts sea levels will continue to rise to a high projection of 10 inches by 2020 and 30 inches by the 2050s. As sea levels have been rising so have water temperatures.

Scientists have repeatedly said rising sea levels will lead to an increase of storm surge-related flooding and rising sea surface temperatures will lead to stronger and more damaging hurricanes.

This October will mark the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in 48 fatalities and caused more than $30 billion in damage for the state of New York alone. Former President Barack Obama (D) declared a state of emergency for New York, and although it was classified as a post-tropical nor’easter or superstorm when it touched down in New York, it led to hundreds of Long Islanders losing their homes and businesses, thousands losing power for weeks, school closures and much more damage.

Scenes of destruction after Hurricane Sandy hit the North Shore. File photo

According to Suffolk County, Sandy damages cost Brookhaven Town a total of just less than $30 million, and Huntington Town slightly more than $30 million. Considerable costs came from debris removal; aid for school district repairs; repairs to boardwalks, stairs, docks and sidewalk repairs; and fire department costs.

“Even with storms of the same intensity, future hurricanes will cause more damage as higher sea levels exacerbate storm surges, flooding and erosion,” a study done by the NRDC said. The study said in recent years hurricane damages have averaged $12 billion annually and more than 120 fatalities. “With business-as-usual emissions, average annual hurricane damages in 2100 will have grown by $422 billion and an astounding 760 deaths from just climate change impacts.”

In 2013, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) created the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery to manage the $4.4 billion in relief funds that was made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A billion dollars in aid went to assisting 1,100 New Yorkers with reconstructing their homes, more than $76 million was awarded to rebuild 750 rental properties, and at least $49 million was awarded to 1,043 small businesses to support the replacement of essential equipment and renovations.

“Superstorm Sandy demonstrated that New York as we know it faces a different reality — a reality of increasingly frequent extreme weather events that cannot be ignored,” Cuomo said upon the two-year anniversary of the storm.

Sustainable Long Island’s executive director L. Von Kuhen said Sandy helped many residents realize the seriousness of the potential future. The nonprofit works to advance sustainable development for Long Island communities.

“I think Sandy … made a lot of people wake up and realize how vulnerable our coastal communities really are,” Kuhen said in a phone interview. “People are used to periodic flooding from normal storms but never anticipated anything of what Sandy caused. It was a wake-up call.”

Scenes of destruction after Hurricane Sandy hit the North Shore. File photo

He said many communities responded to that call, reaching out to the organization after the storm to create a plan for their town or village so they’re prepared for the next storm. He said the nonprofit conducted a survey in 2015 to see how many people were prepared for another major storm and the results showed Sandy helped teach many people.

“People knew a lot more than they did before the storm because I think a lot of people hadn’t thought about the possibility of a major storm hitting Long Island to the degree of Sandy,” he said. “I think there was a lot of public education at many levels after that.”

Real estate losses could cost the United States $34 billion in just eight short years, and $173 billion by 2075, according to the NRDC study. As sea levels continue to rise, homeowners on the water are going to see their backyards disappear, and water creep closer to their front doors.

“Our business-as-usual scenario forecasts 23 inches of sea level rise by 2050 and 45 inches by 2100,” the study said. “If nothing is done to hold back the waves, rising sea levels will inundate low-lying coastal properties. Even those properties that remain above water will be more likely to sustain storm damage, as encroachment of the sea allows storm surges to reach inland areas not previously affected.”

They estimated if heat-trapping gasses continue to be emitted at the current rate, in 2100 United States residential losses will reach $360 billion per year — with states like New York and areas like Long Island being especially vulnerable.

One Stony Brook resident has already run into a real estate problem concerning her house and proximity to the water.

“I had been dealing with the same insurance company for more than 35 years,” Donna Newman said in a phone interview. “And suddenly they notified me they wouldn’t be able to offer me home insurance any more.”

Newman said when she spoke with someone at the insurance company, they explained to her they could no longer cover her because she lives too close to the water— about a half a mile from it.

“Even with storms of the same intensity, future hurricanes will cause more damage as higher sea levels exacerbate storm surges, flooding and erosion.”

“I was pretty upset by that,” she said. “We have not moved our house; the water has always been there. I was very angry.”

Newman was told many other residents in her zip code were also no longer going to be insured due to their proximity to the water.

The United States as a whole will also face an increasing demand for energy as climate change continues, as well as exploding water costs for the driest and most water-stressed parts of the country.

“Many economic models have attempted to capture the costs of climate change for the United States,” the NRDC study said. “For the most part however these analyses grossly underestimate costs by making predictions that are out of step with the scientific consensus on the daunting scope of climatic changes and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions.” 

With all the daunting issues facing the United States, if greenhouse gas emission rates are maintained, America is far from the most vulnerable.

“The sad irony is that while richer countries like the United States are responsible for much greater per person greenhouse gas emissions, many of the poorest countries around the world will experience damages that are much larger as a percentage of their national output,” the study said.

Scientists, like those who work out of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences’ Marine Sciences Center, are constantly asking questions, as the desire grows to find links between correlation and causation. File photo

Researchers often desire more data to help make the distinction between correlation — it rained the last three Tuesdays — and causation — dumping nitrogen into the lake caused the growth of algae that robbed the lake of oxygen.

Scientists don’t like to get ahead of their information, preferring to take the painstaking steps of going that extra mile to control for as many mitigating or confounding variables as they can.

Researchers are often “reluctant to say with certainty that they are correct,” Larry Swanson, the interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University said.

This hesitation to indicate a certain conclusion can raise challenges for politicians, who would like to rely on scientific proof in developing plans for their constituents.

“Policy people want to create a law or regulation that is definitive and will have the desired outcome,” Swanson added.

File photo.

Since he began working in and around Long Island waters in 1960, he started his work collecting data at wetlands around New Haven, and has since studied hypoxia — the process through which oxygen levels are depleted in waterways.

Swanson urges a more extensive collection of data around Long Island.

“I believe we need to monitor the physical environment for changes not just for time series data, such as temperature, but in order to understand how ecological processes are being altered as a consequence of warming,” Swanson said.

Henry Bokuniewicz, a distinguished service professor of oceanography at Stony Brook, said there was a coastline monitoring program in place in 1995 after nor’easters and hurricanes in 1992, but that the effort petered out.

“This should be re-established if [New York State is] serious about coastal impact of shoreline changes,” he said.

Bokuniewicz also suggests measuring and recording waves that are close to shore, and water levels at the ocean coast and interior bays.

Stony Brook had an initiative for additional hires in a cluster for coastal engineering and management, but never completed the hires for budgetary reasons, Bokuniewicz said. “We could do much better with a new generation of scientists dedicated to the Long Island shore,” he said.

Scientists acknowledge that the study of climate change rarely involves establishing the kind of linear connection between action and reaction that turning up the thermostat in a house would provide.

Scientists distinguish between the weather — is it raining today, tomorrow or next week — and the climate — how does March in New York compare to March in North Carolina?

File photo

The climate, generally, remains consistent with a long-term outlook, even if Long Island might experience an unseasonably hot July, an unusually cool September and a heavier-than-normal snowfall in December.

With climate change, scientists collect as much data as they can to determine how the climate is shifting. That presents significant challenges: how do researchers pick data to feed into their models and the patterns to explore?

The broader trend in March could be that spring starts earlier, extending the growing season and creating opportunities for insects, plants or animals to affect the habitat. That could be slightly different this year, amid a cold snap that lasts more than a few days, or in the wake of an unexpected blizzard days before spring.

Indeed, until, and even after there is a scientific consensus, researchers debate long into the night about their interpretations, conclusions and simulation models.

More often than not, scientists crave more information to help them interpret evolving conditions.

“While we know in general why hypoxia will be bad, we can’t really predict it,” Swanson said. “When will it start? How long will it last? This is because we do not understand all the processes — things like the role of bacteria, phytoplankton and the blooming processes and water circulation.”

Science, as it turns out, is often more about collecting more information to ask better questions and developing more precise theories.

As researchers often point out, they can be wrong for the right reasons and right for the wrong ones, all of which, they hope, helps them understand more about the inevitable next set of questions. And, as scientists have offered, it’s a never-ending discussion, as the best answers lead to more questions.

How to defeat ISIS, save the economy and reunite the country

By Michael Tessler

Michael Tessler

Historically speaking, the United States economy tends to thrive in wartime. Americans become patriotic when faced with a great foreign menace. In times of crisis, we tend to buy American products. Our star-spangled workforce works harder and innovates quicker. Our domestic political disagreements seem smaller when we tackle something larger than ourselves. In these moments of dire necessity, we find common purpose. Under that pretense our nation was founded and through the centuries has propelled it to unparalleled success.

Thankfully, we do not need another world war to accomplish this spirit of unity. This may all feel impossible as the gap between our political factions has never felt wider. On every issue it seems partisanship dictates idleness and/or delinquency. So how do we bridge that gap? How do we break the ice? Well the answer is simple — by protecting it.

Climate change is the key to a new era of American greatness. Now, even if you don’t believe in climate change, hear me out. Before we can proceed, please remove the term “climate change” from your mind as some abstract scientific concept. Let’s personalize it, treat it in the same fashion we’d treat any great and terrible foreign power or dictator. It helps to imagine it with an evil little mustache. Envisioning it now? Good.

This Blue Scare (yes, as in excess water) threatens our homes, our livelihoods and our way of life. If we lose this literal “Cold” War, our cities and towns could be decimated not by atomic fire but by superstorms, erosion, dust bowls and flooding. Each day we wait, the Blue Menace grows stronger, melting glaciers and capturing our territory, inch by inch.

Let us form an iron curtain around the ozone layer, protect it from further damage and economically punish those who aide in its destruction. We must establish a great coalition of all civilized nations to combat this threat in an act of global unity, all the while strengthening and cementing our role as an international leader.

This Blue Menace has allied itself with our nation’s greatest physical enemy, ISIS. Their terrorist organization wants nothing more than for us to continue to ignore this mighty faceless foe. According to the United States Treasury and Dubai-based energy analysts, ISIS receives nearly $1 to $3 million a day selling oil. Meanwhile, the United States continues to be the global leader in daily oil consumption accounting for 20 percent of all global use each and every day.

By ending our addiction to oil, we could decimate the so-called Islamic Caliphate without dropping a single bomb. Without the money from that precious resource, they would be unable to remain an effective fighting force. Our nation would no longer have to maintain alliances with false friends, who have used their swaths of oil as leverage over our current state of dependence.

Meanwhile, we can commit that all investments in green energy jobs must be American. We can hire every single unemployed American to help build a modern and green infrastructure. We will see the greatest investment in public works since President Eisenhower built the interstate highway system. We will create a new generation of energy-producing highways (yes, that’s an actual thing), new energy fueling stations, bullet trains, green appliances and the vehicles of tomorrow.

Industry will boom and the workforce will grow as we upgrade and innovate many existing products and power plants. Regardless of how one views climate change, the economic possibility is real and should not be ignored.

One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard is how will communities that produce outdated energy sources be impacted? Though the merits of “clean coal” can be debated, it is simply not a renewable resource. Our economy cannot survive or remain competitive in the 21st century using finite resources.

We cannot and will not abandon those who live in coal and oil country either. We will continue to ensure that their communities thrive by transforming them into clean energy economic hubs, providing not just new jobs, but training and tax subsidies to aide in their transition. Their concerns are genuine and have a right to be heard.

As long as the United States can be fundamentally held hostage by oil, we are at-risk. We owe it to all those who have sacrificed, to our children, born and unborn, to the ideals of America itself, to create a country that relies solely on the ingenuity of its people rather than foreign pipelines and the fuel of a bygone century.

So let’s defeat ISIS, let’s grow the economy, let’s reunite our country, let’s do something bold — we have landed a man on the moon, and with that same American tenacity, we can harness the power of the sun.

Co-CEO of East Setauket-based investment firm connected to major money behind Trump administration

 

A large group of political protesters paraded along busy Route 25A in East Setauket March 24, aiming their outcry not just at the administration in Washington, D.C., but a reclusive hedge fund billionaire by the name of Robert Mercer residing in their own backyard.

Mercer, the co-CEO of an East Setauket-based investment firm and resident of Head of the Harbor, has been under the spotlight for being the money behind President Donald Trump’s (R) administration, maintaining a major influence on the White House’s agenda, including its strict immigration policies.

Mercer, a major backer of the far-right Breitbart News, reportedly contributed nearly $13.5 million to the Trump campaign and, along with his daughter Rebekah, played a part in securing the leadership positions of chief strategist Steve Bannon and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

Regarding Mercer as the administration’s puppeteer-in-chief, protesters assembled to bring public attention to the local family’s power in the White House and the influence “dark money” has had in America.

“I think we’ve reached a worrisome point in our history that a single individual can have the kind of influence that Robert Mercer has, simply because he has a huge amount of money,” Setauket resident John Robinson said. “I think he’s an extremely dangerous individual with worrisome views. He just wants government to not be around so people like him and companies like his can plunder to their heart’s content.”

The short march, made up of several protest groups including the North Country Peace Group, began at the CVS shopping center and landed at the bottom of the hill where Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies sits. Leading the march were local residents wearing paper cutout masks of Trump, Bannon and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), each strung up like puppets and controlled by a resident in a grim reaper outfit, representing Mercer.

Equipped with signs reading “Mercer $ Bought Trump We Pay the Price” and “Resist Mercer,” Long Island residents stood in front of the investment firm’s office and participated in a mock debate with the faux-political figures. The topics ranged from Mercer’s denial of climate change to Zeldin’s stance on the now-pulled American Health Care Act.

Sue McMahon, a member of the grassroots coalition Building Bridges in Brookhaven, had only recently learned about Mercer’s heavy involvement in Trump’s presidency and his close proximity and participated in the march to expose him.

“I’m very concerned we have a person like this among us who holds the power of the Republican Party,” McMahon said.

She said she’s particularly troubled by the administration’s overwhelming ignorance of environmental issues, its emphasis on money and the extreme views of Breitbart News.

“This is not the America I grew up with, this is not what I want,”she said. “I’m not normally a protester, but I believe we all have to stand up now.”

Paul Hart, a Stony Brook resident, said he was there to support democracy.

The American people have lost representative government because campaign contributions are now controlled by the rich, he said, and it’s hard to think about the needs of constituents when they don’t contribute in a way that’s beneficial to a politician’s re-election.

“The average person has absolutely no voice in politics anymore,” Hart said. “Bbefore, we had a little bit, but now, we’re being swept aside.

One protester referred to Mercer as one small part of a larger picture, and expressed concern over a growing alt-right movement throughout the country that prefers an authoritarian government that runs like a business.

“I guess that’s what Trump is all about,” said Port Jefferson resident Jordan Helin. “But we’re seeing what the country looks like when it’s being run like a business, [and it’s scary].”

Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and member, said her organization has held previous actions against Renaissance Technologies, and was among the first grassroots groups on Long island to take notice of how entrenched in the White House Mercer and his family are. According to her, Rebekah Mercer is in many ways more powerful than her father.

“We cannot take the focus off [Rebekah Mercer] right now, because she’s become a powerful force in this whole issue of money in politics, buying candidates, everything we see in our government,” she said.

Since Robert Mercer is local and lives in our community, she added, it’s time that we showed our strength and our voice regarding what this money is doing to our country.