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Climate Change

The Cerulean Warbler is on the New York State Special Concern list. Photo by Gary Robinette/National Audubon Society

By John L. Turner

For many years there has been a broad public perception that the primary effect of dumping excessive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, from the burning of fossil fuels (and the release of other gases such as methane from landfills, gas and oil wells, and other sources), was the warming of the atmosphere — a phenomenon that was first called “global warming” or the “greenhouse effect.” 

Higher average daily and annual temperatures in the atmosphere have, indeed, occurred, so that label is partially correct — 2019 was the second hottest year ever measured, only slightly behind 2016, and according to records of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the past five years are the warmest years on record in the 140-year span the federal government has been measuring atmospheric temperatures; today’s earth is more than two degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than it was in 1950.

But while the term “global warming” has become shorthand to describe the effect increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 have on climate, a wide number of scientists recognize that warming temperatures are but one of many adverse environmental effects caused by too much atmospheric CO2 and, in fact, in some places excess CO2 has caused cooling. 

Thus, the term “global warming” both is inaccurate and too restrictive to capture the full range of ecological/environmental impacts and resultantly has fallen into disfavor, replaced by the more accurate label of “climate change” or “climate disruption”. But even these more accurate, expansive labels don’t completely portray the full suite of environmental effects occurring around the world, effects that go far beyond climate, as concerning as that alone would make the climate crisis.

Below is a description of but a few of the many commonly recognized “faces” of climate change that have emerged over the past decade:

More extreme and destructive weather — A warmer atmosphere has more energy and holds more water vapor. This has resulted, in the past decade, of more intense weather events such as increased rainfall and associated flooding, hurricanes, and in some places just the opposite: droughts, often resulting in catastrophic wildfires. Poor Texas: in 2011 the state experienced day time temperatures of over 100 degrees for more than 100 straight days! and experienced a “500-year” storm (a storm of such intensity it is expected to occur once every 500 years) for three straight years (2015-2017).

Sea level rise — As temperatures rise so does the level of the ocean due to thermal expansion and the large volumes of meltwater running off of glaciers and ice caps; it is 2.6 inches higher than 1993 and is rising about one-eighth of an inch per year, a rate that some fear will increase and perhaps increase quickly. 

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has published sea level rise projections for Long Island; for the 2050s the low projection is an eight inch rise, the medium range projection is 16 inches and the high projection is 30 inches. If the medium to high projections occur, Long Island’s shoreline will be redrawn with marshes and beaches disappearing and thousands of homeowners having to relocate. Miami and many other coastal cities are already being inundated.

Ocean Warming & Acidification — The world’s oceans are warming too and also absorbing the significant majority of excess CO2. When CO2 combines with seawater a weak acid — carbonic acid — is formed. This is not good for shell making creatures like clams and corals. Due to ocean warming and the shifting of pH, coral and other shell making creatures are increasingly stressed. A 2008 study on the health of the planet’s coral reefs indicated that one-fifth are gone with another 15-20% under significant stress.

Impacts to Wildlife — Every other species on Spaceship Earth will potentially be affected by climate change; many have already. Birds, for example, run the risk of starving due to a timing mismatch between when they migrate and when their insect food emerges. A report from the National Audubon Society published in late 2019 finds that two-thirds of North American species are at heightened risk of extinction due to climate change.

Spreading of disease — A number of disease-causing pathogens are likely to get worse as the climate becomes warmer and wetter. Malaria is but one example and it is not a small example. According to the World Health Organization 405,000 people died from contracting malaria last year with 228 million contracting the disease. Closer to home, scientists think both West Nile Virus and Lyme disease will become more prevalent as the planet warms.

A popular slogan seen at climate change rallies is “There is no Planet B.” We can continue to sleepwalk through the issue by electing leaders who “deny” climate change, and pretend there’s a Planet B awaiting us once we finish befouling Planet A. Collectively, we have a fundamental choice to make — we can recognize the madness of this idea, or recognize there is, of course, only one hospitable planet — Planet A — and as occupants of it, we are in a great position to do something about it.

The “faces” of climate change are profound and the magnitude of what needs to be done may seem intractable and overwhelming, leading us to throw up our collective hands in despair. 

A much better response is to use those same hands to reduce our carbon footprints by: holding a pen to check the box on the election ballot for candidates who recognize the serious threat climate change poses to nature and humanity, use another pen to write a check to a solar company if you can afford to install roof-top solar panels, twist some new LED light-bulbs into ceiling and lamp sockets, grab a screwdriver and install a dryer vent deflector to have the moist and warm heat from your dryer warm your house in the winter rather than be vented (and wasted) outdoors, lift the lid of your compost bin to compost organic waste, and drop recyclable materials, especially aluminum cans, into your recycling can.

And by completing these actions, and others, you’re acknowledging there is no Planet B, and further, that Planet A, this one small and fragile blue marble floating in a vacuum void, is all we have and all we will ever have. Taking these concrete steps to address the many faces of climate change is bound to put a smile on your face.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

Main Street in Port Jefferson. Photo by Sapphire Perara

By Sapphire Perera

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a temporary solution for the climate crisis. For many years, people have sought out various approaches to bring down greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment through renewable energy sources. However, the coronavirus pandemic has proved to be the most effective solution yet. The earth is finally being allowed to breathe. Many scientists are calling this pandemic a temporary solution to the climate crisis but I believe that we can continue to have air with lower carbon dioxide levels, water that is clear and clean and a healthy environment if we all worked hard to change our daily routine. 

Sapphire Perera

The COVID-19 started healing the environment in China: the most polluted country on earth. Due to the forced closings of factories, shut-downs of manufacturing plants and mandatory quarantines for its citizens, there were reductions in coal and crude oil usage. It resulted in a reduction in CO2 emissions of 25 percent or more, which is approximately six percent of total global emissions. Italy was the country next in line to feel the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. However, with everyone in quarantine, Italy followed China in terms of environmental revival. In only a few months, the people of Venice were able to see the fish and the bottom of the canals that were once murky and polluted. In India, similar improvements were being seen. The beautiful snow-covered Himalayas were once hidden by smog but after months of quarantine and a strict curfew, they could be seen by the Jalandhar citizens from more than one hundred miles away; they claim that it’s the first time in 30 years that they’ve clearly seen the Himalayas.

These changes to the environment are being seen all across the world. However, once quarantine ends, the earth will be suffocated by humans once again. To prevent this, I believe that more time and resources should be invested in the search for permanent solutions that would ameliorate the climate crisis. In terms of individual change, I know that there are hundreds of ways for us to stop partaking in the activities that promote the oil industry and fossil fuel industry. For instance, we can stop using cruise ships and motorboats for personal entertainment. According to the 2016 Pacific Standard report, “each passenger’s carbon footprint while cruising is roughly three-times it would be on land”. 

In addition to regulating our carbon footprint through marine activities, we can also start placing more emphasis on alternative sports that don’t require corporate culture producers who promote environmentally unfriendly functions and corporations. Also, while this last one might be a small change, it can have a great impact. This change requires us to use less of our private vehicles to get places, and more of the public transport system. Transport makes up about 72 percent of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. If public transportation is increased to the point that families are taking buses and trains more than their own cars, we might be able to significantly reduce the percentage of gas emissions that come from driving.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY-14 Bronx) Green New Deal reinforces some of these ideas and has already shown results through the pandemic. Some proposals in the Green New Deal include high-speed rail, removing combustible engines from the road, upgrading all existing buildings, and retraining coal workers. 

One very important aspect of this Green New Deal is to reduce air travel. Many people find that to be too drastic a step towards fixing climate change, but is it really? According to a Center for Biological Diversity report, airplanes will generate about forty-three gigatonnes of planet-warming pollution through 2050. But with the current travel restrictions and just a few months of limited air travel, we are seeing clouds of nitrogen dioxide begin to evaporate from places above Italy and China. In addition to being less dependent on air travel, we are now less dependent on the coal mining industries. This has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the employment of coal workers; over 34,000 coal mining jobs have disappeared in the U.S. in the past decade. Fortunately, the Green New Deal focuses on training the coal workers in occupations pertaining to renewable and clean energy, and infrastructure. By eliminating the coal mining industry we would be making great leaps in the fight against the climate crisis. 

Ever since the green revolution, humanity has been taking more than they need from the environment. We have abused Earth’s natural resources and expanded into territories that were inhabited by other species. I hope that this coronavirus pandemic has shown us that humanity doesn’t have to behave like a virus. We don’t have to continue worsening the climate crisis but instead, we could learn from this pandemic and start implementing regulations such as limited air travel and increased public transportations. We can turn consumerism to conservation, capitalism to socialism, and industrialism to environmentalism. 

Sapphire Perera is a junior at Port Jefferson high school. The “Turtle Island,” as the name for this ongoing column refers to the Native American mythology about North America existing on the back of a great turtle that bears every living being on its spine.

The Piping Plover could be completely lost from the shores of Long Island due to climate change. Photo by Kimberley Caruso/Audubon Photography Awards

By Brooke Bateman

Brooke Bateman

Fifty years ago on April 22nd, millions of Americans made their voices heard. It was this first Earth Day that brought on the environmental movement as we know it today, where concerned individuals collectively said that it was time to take action to be better for our planet. 

Across the country, people demanded that action be taken to clean up our air and water and protect our environment. The momentum of that day helped bring about public support in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and helped usher through the passage of key laws including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. 

As Earth Day 2020 is set to be celebrated in nearly 200 countries, this year’s celebration may look different to the crowd-filled events and rallies typical of this day; we are in truly unprecedented times. As I write this we are a few weeks into the pandemic quarantine, but I am blessed to be outside listening to the familiar calls of the birds I have come to know in my neighborhood. 

That’s the thing about birds; their presence can connect us to the local rhythms of nature, the signature of a time and place. As the majority of people are spending their days at home on lockdown, I have had many friends reach out to me about how much solace they are finding in birds right now. As one of the most beloved and ubiquitous forms of wildlife, birds are our connector to nature around us. Birds are also our messengers and if we pay attention, they’re showing us that our world is changing. 

Over the last 50 years, America has lost over one quarter of its birds, nearly 3 billion birds less fill our skies today then in 1970. Yet, the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is being dismantled, making it much more likely that even more will be lost and without any accountability for incidental loss. 

We are losing nature at an unprecedented rate, yet we are seeing rollbacks on some of our bedrock protections such as the Clean Air and Water Acts, making it easier for our planet to be polluted yet again. Looking forward to the next 50 years, climate change is the biggest issue both birds and people alike will face. Birds are already telling us that our climate is changing — birds ranges are changing, shifting and contracting as the climate conditions change across the globe. Birds like the Rusty Blackbird are lost to large parts of their historical range as climate conditions worsen. Whole communities are collapsing, with mass seabird die offs now happening yearly off our northern shores due to warming sea temperatures. Seabirds like puffins and murres are dying from starvation from the changes in the food web brought about by extreme heat in the oceans. 

Bird migration has shifted. As spring arrives earlier and earlier, birds are either having to migrate earlier or find themselves out of luck when they arrive too late and their resources have past their peak. Even the herald of spring, the American Robin, has decided that it may not have to fly south after all, sticking around through warmer winters in many places. 

Without global action, such as the Paris accord (of which the U.S. is no longer a part of), how can we meet the significant actions needed to limit global temperatures to 2C (or preferably 1.5C)? The consequence of not doing so is that our planet would be transformed into a more inhospitable place. 

The consequence is potentially losing billions more birds. Audubon’s Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, a report forecasting the survival of birds to climate change, shows that two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extreme range loss and potentially extinction from unmitigated climate change. In New York, 116 species are vulnerable to climate change, including charismatic species like the Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, American Woodcock, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Piping Plover. 

The Piping Plover could be completely lost from the shores of Long Island due to climate change. No species will escape climate change, with birds (and the places they share with us) also facing multiple coincident climate change-related threats. New York will experience greater extreme heat events, increased coastal and inland flooding from sea level rise and heavy rainfall, increased pressures from urbanization, and disrupted ecosystems.

But this loss is so much more than just numbers. It is the loss of some of our familiar neighborhood birds we have come to know and love, of nature and our sense of place as we know it. It is not being able to share the joy of seeing a Piping Plover on our beaches with our children. It is the loss of our familiar seasons and weather patterns, where extreme events and natural disasters become more frequent. It’s some of our more vulnerable communities being put at further risk, as climate change will disproportionately affect our children, our elderly, lower income communities, and communities of color. 

However, we still have time, and as the threat of climate change grows, so does the work we need to do. If we can limit climate change to between 1.5C to 2.0C, then we can limit the loss we will come to see. Indeed, 76% of bird species will be better off if we can do just that, and our communities and environment will also not see such drastic affects. 

To get there we need to listen to the science, and make changes now both as individuals and as a nation. We have done this before. One of the greatest environmental successes of our time came as concerned Americans listened to what the birds were telling us. Toxic pesticides, pollution and ecosystem destruction were devastating some of our beloved birds including the Bald Eagle and the Brown Pelican. We gathered evidence, and looked hard at our values. 

As Americans, we decided that we value clean water, clean air, and healthy ecosystems for our wildlife and natural spaces. We decided we did not want a world where unchecked environmental destruction quieted our birds as described in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. We listened to the science and we took action, and as the environment got healthier, the birds returned. I now marvel at the Bald Eagles and Osprey that have returned to Long Island, having never been a feature of my Long Island childhood.  

So where do we stand on this 50th Earth Day? We need to yet again examine our values and embrace science-based conservation. We need to take action, to set in motion the momentum to spark the next environmental movement taking us beyond just one day. We need to face these incredible challenges and opportunities collectively, to do what needs to be done to solve this climate crisis. 

The science illustrates how our warming planet will impact both the birds we all love, and the people in our communities, but also shows us that if we act there is still time to create a brighter future for birds and people. If we do something now to stabilize climate change, then we can improve the chances for the majority of these species. And we already have a lot of the tools we need to reduce the effects of global warming. 

Climate change is a global crisis, a threat that humanity faces as a whole. Even as we face the current global pandemic threat, the need for effective and coordinated advocacy for climate change action is greater than ever. We have shown through our current pandemic crisis we are able to come together (even by being apart), and we must harness this united energy as the climate is changing and the window to act is closing. Birds are telling us, the time to act on climate change is now. 

This Earth Day, and every day, we need to come together and listen and to act on our values.  We once again need to be a collective voice of change to protect the earth we all share. 

Brooke Bateman is a mother, nature lover, and scientist. She received her PhD in Ecology and Conservation and is the Senior Scientist, Climate at the National Audubon Society. The Stony Brook resident also sits on the board of Four Harbors Audubon Society.

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 Maria Hoffman

By Sapphire Perera

I haven’t been to school in 13 days and I don’t know when I’m going back. Many of the shelves in the grocery stores are empty, toilet paper is sold out and everyone is self-quarantining. This panic and fear are due to the outbreak of the most current pandemic — the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. This new strain of coronavirus originated in China and has spread globally. While it seems improbable that there’s a connection between pandemics and climate change, past pandemics prove otherwise. This connection shows us that for every action, there is a reaction.

Interview with Dr. Lisa M. Chirch

Dr. Lisa M. Chirch is a associate professor of medecine at the University of Connecticut who specializes in infectionous diseases.

SP: Sapphire Perera; LC: Lisa Chirch

SP: Due to habitat loss, there is evidence of vector transference between wild animals and livestock. Do you think this will eventually involve household pets, which may be more susceptible to loss of native immunity? 

LC: Good question, and very important to those of us with household pets we adore as part of the family. To date, it is unclear whether viral infections such as COVID-19 can infect dogs and cats, or whether they would become ill if infected. It really depends on the specific organism and how they infect, which tissues are targets, which receptors are used for cell entry, etc. Certainly, the potential for domestic animals to be affected is present, and we should probably be taking similar precautions with our beloved pets as with our family members whom we want to protect.

SP: Extreme changes in global weather patterns are one factor of climate change. With increases in climate change and warmer weather, do you feel that future pandemics will originate in places such as North America and Western Europe instead of Asia and Africa, as they did with the 1918 Spanish flu?

LC: Throughout history, pandemics have originated from sites all over the world. Pandemics originate when humans are exposed to “novel” organisms we have never seen before, exposing populations without immunity. Over time these have frequently been related to the animal/human interface in some way, with organisms “jumping” from one species to another, and in the worst-case scenario, becoming efficient at human-to-human transmission. So, to the extent that climate change drives animals and humans further together, it drives the possibility of further epidemics. Importantly, climate change has more immediate and tangible effects on infectious diseases in humans that have been recently notable, such as the appearance of certain mosquito-borne arboviruses in the southern U.S. (dengue, chikungunya, Zika), and tick-borne illnesses migrating northward as well, with the associated northward movement of the tick species that carry them.

Sapphire Perera

Climate change has made our winters shorter and the weather unseasonably warm. This global increase in temperature is just one of the causes of climate change, and directly affects vectors i.e., disease-carrying organisms such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and flies. These vectors spread diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and yellow fever which are some of the worst pandemics. The global increase in temperature is driving these vectors further from the equator and into the northern hemisphere. For instance, the United States has seen increased cases of dengue and malaria in Florida, California and Texas. Europe and the U.S. may soon be subjected to the same epidemics that plague people in equatorial climates. In contrast, other regions that usually struggle through the worst of the pandemics and epidemics will see a decrease in the number of outbreaks.

The increase in temperature, rainfall and humidity also creates more breeding grounds for vectors, leading to the easier spread of diseases. This was exemplified by India’s monsoon season from 1994 to 1996. The excessive monsoon rainfall and high humidity in the Punjab region of India led to an increase in malaria epidemics in places such as Rajasthan, Manipur, Nagaland and Haryana. Recent studies have shown that El Niño has actually increased the malaria epidemic risk in India by about fivefold. El Niño scientists have discovered increases in incidences of cholera, Zika, chikungunya, and hantavirus with El Niño occurrences. 

Deforestation is another cause of climate change that brings vectors closer to urban communities.  Sonia Shah, the author of the book “Pandemic,” says in her article in The Nation, “When deforestation threatens the survival of wild species, there are more opportunities for animal microbes to adapt to human bodies.” One example from the many pandemics that we’ve had in the past is the Ebola outbreak. In places such as Central and West Africa, there have been serious deforestation and habitat losses for bats, which are vectors for Ebola. These bats started inhabiting places closer to urban populations which, in turn, increased the likelihood of Ebola outbreaks. Studies in 12 countries have actually shown that it is twice as common to have vector mosquitoes in deforested areas than in intact forests. 

Apart from bringing vectors close to human communities, climate change is introducing prehistoric diseases to mankind. In 2016, the Russian city of Yakutsk saw the outbreak of anthrax during a heat wave in Siberia. The thawing permafrost soil there released long-dormant bacteria and viruses that had been trapped in the ice for centuries. One 12-year-old boy died and at least 20 people were hospitalized from infection. Scientists speculate that more diseases lie beneath the ice and with the rising global temperature, we may see the reemergence of diseases such as smallpox, the bubonic plague and the 1918 Spanish flu.

Since January, there has been a significant universal decrease in social and economic activity. The results from this are astounding. First of all, since there has been slower economic activity, there has been a drop in carbon dioxide emissions. In Hubei province in Central China, there has been a drop in air pollution as the cloud of nitrogen dioxide evaporated in February. Italy saw similar results in its environment pertaining to nitrogen dioxide levels. Additionally, the once-murky canal water in Venice is now so clear that you can see the fish below. In countries all over the world, we are seeing changes like this. Unfortunately, it’s taking a pandemic brought about by climate change to reduce climate change.

Sapphire Perera is a junior at Port Jefferson high school. The “Turtle Island,” as the name for this ongoing column refers to the Native American mythology about North America existing on the back of a great turtle that bears every living being on its spine.

Birds are known as indicator species: they tell us if things are alright in the ecosystem. Photo above: A male rose-breasted grosbeak rests in a tulip tree. Photo by Luci Betti-Nash

A new study in the Sept. 20 issue of Science has found that in the United States and Canada bird populations have fallen a staggering 29 percent since 1970.

Such a dramatic drop has scientists concerned that the decline could be a sign of an ecosystem collapse. Habitat loss is considered a prime culprit. 

Huntington resident Coby Klein understands the big picture. He’s an ecology professor at Baruch College and a guide with the Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society.

“If the arctic continues to become warmer and drier, it will cause larger and more frequent fires,” he said. “Fires kill birds and destroy nesting habitats and drive down populations of sandpipers, gulls, terns, waterfowl and birds of prey that migrate through or winter on Long Island.”

The best thing people can do, if you really have an interest in protecting birds and the environment, he said, is to vote.

Otherwise, the Audubon Society is committed to transforming communities back into places where birds flourish. Sterile lawns, ornamental species, pesticides and herbicides mean that on a local level, the landscape no longer supports functioning ecosystems.

Klein himself said that he lives on a postage-stamp-sized lot and the only native plant that thrives in his yard is poison ivy. But he notes that the Audubon Society is sponsoring a campaign called Creating Bird-Friendly Communities. The program is designed to educate the public on what they can do to help reverse the damage done and revive disappearing bird populations.

Growing native plants is a key component to re-establishing the ecological functions of cities and towns, according to the society and its experts. And they say the concept is easier on the back and wallet.

To flourish, birds need (a) plenty of food, (b) shelter where they can rest, (c) clean water to drink and bath in and (d) safe places to raise their young. Native plants and the insects that co-evolved around them are vital to a healthy system. The more native plants, the Audubon emphasizes, the more food and shelter. More bugs, caterpillars and seed pods on more public and private land is part of the solution.

The Audubon’s Native Plants Database, which is on its website, suggests plants according to ZIP code. The choices were hand-selected by local experts and include information about the birds and creatures it benefits. Serviceberry, for example, is recommended for Long Island’s North Shore communities. The small, shrublike tree with dense branching produces white flowers in the spring followed by red, purple or black berries. It attracts butterflies and caterpillars, as well as warblers and woodpeckers and about nine other types of birds. The database can be a good first place to explore landscape options.

The Long Island Native Plant Initiative’s website is another good resource. The local nonprofit gathers wild seeds and makes  native plants commercially available. It also grows and sells the native plant species to local nurseries to increase availability. Polly Weigand, the executive director, recommends requesting native plants from your favorite garden center to increase demand. It’s goal is to reach more businesses in the nursery industry. Once people get into the habit of  providing suitable habitats, birds become less vulnerable and are potentially more capable of adapting to climate conditions, according to the Audubon.

Native gardens, experts agree, are also relatively maintenance free and require little to no special irrigation system or fertilizers or toxic chemicals.  So, it saves time and money and is a  healthier option for people in the long run.

This fall consider practicing less drastic and costly yard cleanup. The Audubon recommends leaving the seed heads of perennials in the garden and skipping the raking. Leaf litter, they say, is free fertilizer, and a good place for birds to forage for worms and other critters. If tree limbs fall, they say, consider building a brush pile that will provide birds with shelter from the wind and predators. Branches settle and decompose over the seasons and make room for the next year’s contributions.

Plant asters and woody shrubs like bayberry and winterberry this fall.  The waxy fruit of bayberry provides an important source of energy to migrating birds. Evergreens, too, like cedars, firs and holly, provide shelter and something for birds to eat in winter. In general, milkweed, goldenrod and sunflowers are important plants for the rest of the year.

“When you plant native species in your home landscapes it’s a protective way of ensuring that invasive ornamental species seeds don’t spread and dominate the rest of Long Island’s landscape,” said Weigand.  

Overall, the objective is to lose some lawn, or create pathways through it, and create habitat layers. Tall canopy trees produce nuts and provide nest cavities for shelter. Shrubs and small trees throw fruit for bird food and herbaceous plants supply seeds and a habitat for pollinators. Decaying leaves produce the base of all habitats. It also happens to be where moth pupae live, a favorite food of baby birds.

Start small, the Audubon states, and cluster plants in groupings of five or more of the same species. Pollinators, they say, prefer to feed from masses of the same flower. And remember to include a birdbath or hollowed out rock where rainwater collects, so birds have a supply of fresh water.

In the end, you’ve created a backyard sanctuary and a sure method for healthy, sustainable living. 

“Climate change is not a lie, please don’t let our planet die,” a crowd of more than 50 people yelled in unison in front of Suffolk County’s H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge Sept. 27. Students, community groups, environmental activists and elected officials gathered to call for immediate action by governments and corporations on the current climate emergency.   

Kallen Fenster, 13, speaks about the impact of climate change. Photo by David Luces

The protest came on the last day of the Global Climate Strike, spearheaded by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who joined some 250,000 protesters in Manhattan Sept. 20. 

Kallen Fenster, a 13-year-old middle school student and founder of the youth organization Leadership for Environmental and Animal Protection, spoke on the effects climate change could have on future generations. 

“Myself and the others here are like millions around the world that we represent today that are worried for their lives and yours,” he said. “Entire species are dying, our oceans are filthy with plastic waste, our beaches are unsafe to swim in, the air is polluted. What hope is there for my future children, or even worse, theirs?” 

The middle schooler called on lawmakers to put more of an emphasis on climate change policy. 

“Tonight, we the youth demand that local, state and federal lawmakers put climate policy first,” Fenster said. “We ask every adult to be a climate action hero and advance policy that will protect communities and its families. It will take all of us, it will take work and it will take sacrifices, but we have no choice, we have no ‘planet B.’”

Other youth activists who spoke at the protest had similar sentiments. 

Gabe Finger, a 7-year-old elementary student, said he wants more people to take this movement seriously. 

“I want people to stop seeing climate change as a political belief and look at it as the dire crisis it is,” he said. “More and more people are seeing that global warming is something not to be ignored. This is not just a fight for the environment, but a fight for our lives — do whatever you can to help because hope is not lost yet.” 

Camilla Riggs, a student at The Laurel Hill School in East Setauket, mentioned climate change will affect everyone. 

“You may not believe in the science but it doesn’t mean you are immune to it or your children’s children. This is not about us anymore, this is about the future of all of us,” she said.

Elected officials called out the current White House administration, which has dialed back on climate change reform.  

“This president has engaged in an assault on all previous efforts to control and contain these greenhouse gas emissions, leaving the Paris accord was an embarrassment, said state Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove). “It is hard to imagine an American president would hire the worst polluters to run the agencies that are supposed to protect us.” 

Lavine said despite that, the state has started to move in the right direction in curbing greenhouse emissions. He mentioned the state Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, congestion pricing going into effect in New York City and a ban on single-use plastic as key steps forward. 

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said we hopefully haven’t run out of time when it comes to climate change. 

“We have to hand [the Earth] over to them responsibly but, to be honest with you, my generation hasn’t been responsible and we have to step up to the plate,” he said.

Elmer Flores, of New York’s 2nd District Democrats, spoke on how climate change is already affecting certain communities. 

“Our low-income communities and minority population will disproportionately feel the negative impacts of climate change,” he said. “Research has shown that climate change, if left unaddressed, will worsen or cause unintended health consequences.”

Flores mentioned that when it comes to air quality, Hispanic and Latino residents have an asthma hospitalization rate that’s three times more than their white counterparts.  

Cheryl Steinhauer, special events manager of Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares, which helped organize the event with Action Together Long Island, spoke on the importance of calling for change. 

“I feel like this is a necessary thing to do. There are a lot of issues at the moment but really this is at the top and most important, at least to me, is taking care of our planet,” she said.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Evidence of my own failure sits in plain sight on my desk. I believe in recycling, in saving the planet, in doing what’s right for me, my children and for future generations.

I readily agree that using one-time plastic pollutes the world and kills marine creatures. And yet, here, sitting on my desk, are two plastic water bottles from one-time-use plastics.

I will, of course, recycle them, but that’s not the point. Why can’t I walk the walk if I talk the talk? It’s not enough to believe in something or to nod in agreement as I read articles about conserving ecosystems, protecting biodiversity and reducing our — no, my — carbon footprint. I could and should do something about it. For example, I should use, clean and reuse the same cup, cutting back on waste.

I speak with people regularly about conservation when I write the Power of Three column for TBR News Media. Often, I ask in the context of their findings about climate change, the atmosphere or biodiversity, what kind of car they drive or how they live their lives. Interviewees sometimes chuckle anxiously, share their concerns about flying to research meetings, and sigh that they should do more. Well, maybe the better way to describe it is they should live differently.

We all think good thoughts, but those thoughts alone don’t change the world. The environment isn’t self-cleaning, the planet has limited space and finite resources, and we should look closely in the mirror at our own decisions and actions.

I read about 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who came to the United Nations and delivered an impassioned speech, challenging leaders to do more and to protect the world for her generation. The teen’s words spoke volumes, as she demanded accountability and passed judgment, from the younger generation on up, for the failings of all of us who haven’t heeded the warnings.

Despite her young age, she has walked the walk. She traveled by boat to the United Nations in New York aboard a zero-emission yacht because she refuses to use a mode of transportation — flying — that emits carbon dioxide. She also went to Davos, Switzerland, for 32 hours aboard a train, again limiting her contribution to fossil fuel emissions. Each of those options might not be practical for many people, but they show her commitment and passion.

We live with a predicament: We see and acknowledge what we believe are our principles, and then we take actions that at times conflict with those beliefs.

That extends beyond the world of climate change and conservation. We often have a chance to see the disconnect between what we say and what we do when our children — or someone else’s children — point them out to us. We don’t want our children texting while they’re driving and yet they sit next to us or in the backseat and see us connecting through our phones with work colleagues or with people waiting to meet us for dinner.

It is also why any kind of poll isn’t completely accurate. We might say one thing, but do the opposite for a host of reasons, including not wanting to tell a cheerful stranger on the other end of the phone what we intend to do.

We recognize the importance of supporting ideas. The challenge, however, comes when we have the chance to choose between the easier option — a plastic bottle of cold water — or the one that supports our beliefs.

When we see our failures of principle, the question is: What are we going to do about it?

Stock photo

By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Axel Carlson

Wishful thinking is part of our lives. As a guide to our hopes, it often is realized and that might mean a happy marriage, a successful occupation and a healthy mind and body.  

But reality often thwarts these ideals and desires. This may be through our faults as well as by bad luck. Scientists hope for success when exploring the unknown, but they are taught not to trust wishful thinking.

In my fields of genetics and biology I have witnessed wishful thinking when science is applied to practical ends. The tobacco industry used wishful thinking for over 50 years, denying that tobacco smoke caused cancers, emphysema and heart disease. They blamed instead an unhealthy lifestyle, an unhealthy work environment or stress itself.  

Similarly, nuclear reactor companies used wishful thinking (and still do) to minimize or deny hazards of radiation except at very high doses of exposure. Most geneticists use a linear relation of dose received to gene mutations produced. They have based this on dozens of peer-reviewed publications. Wishful thinking by those who deny harm to a population from low doses of radiation include a belief that at worst small doses of radiation lead to resistance of radiation or that small doses of radiation are negated by strengthening the immune system to repair any damage done to the DNA.  

In our generation wishful thinking has appeared in discussions of severe and more numerous instances of climate change. Here, opponents of ecological response by international treaty argue that such changes are just normal responses to Earth’s cycles of warming and cooling leading to ice ages or long arid climate or that unpredictable ocean currents might shift and bring about these changing weather patterns.  

Critics of government regulations downplay the discharge of waste into rivers, lakes and oceans, and they use wishful thinking in their arguments, claiming “nature repairs itself” whether it is chopped down forests, over farmed land, open pit mining, fracking for natural gas or lands saturated with pesticides and herbicides. They call scientists raising alarm “tree huggers.”  

It would be a wonderful world if everything we did had no harmful long-lasting unintended consequences of what we do. Wishful thinking saves money and effort to prevent toxic products from entering the environment. It allows abusers to create erosion from bad practices clearing land for agriculture. It allows the discharging of massive quantities of carbon dioxide, believing a dwindling ecosystem will sop up the atmospheric carbon dioxide, producing luxuriant plant growth with massive emissions of oxygen. 

What scientists know is that environments are more complex, and we can disturb it with bad consequences for both local and global environments. The needs of 7 billion people can create substantial changes to Earth and we (thanks to wishful thinking) tend to be unaware or choose to deny such bad outcomes.   

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during a press conference at Port Jefferson Harbor. The LIPA power plant can be seen in the distance. File photo by David Luces
Extreme weather events, coastal flooding, crop yields, brush fires and disruption of fisheries and other ecosystems are among the many concerns that scientists and policymakers aim to address through legislation. Image from the United Nations International Panel on Cllimate Change

New York lawmakers aim to tackle the climate change issue head on: It passed June 20 a bill that will largely eliminate fossil-fuel emissions by 2050. 

The bill, called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, will require incremental changes to the state’s infrastructure. By 2030, the state plans to obtain 70 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, shifting entirely to carbon-free electricity by 2040 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent below 1990 levels. Part of the plan includes developing and implementing measures that remove carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, from the atmosphere. 

New York joins California, Nevada, Hawaii, Washington, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico in committing to clean energy power. The initiative comes in response to the current administration bailing out of the United Nation’s landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to build a low-carbon future and scaling back on many other environmental measures and regulations. 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the bill’s original sponsor, said the bill addresses one of the most important issues of our time. He and state senators have been trying to get clean-energy legislation passed for the last four years. Prior to the 2018 elections, he said, the bill was stuck in the Republican-led senate. 

“It made a big difference in getting this [bill] passed,” he said. “When you have individuals that deny climate change, it is difficult just to get to first base.”

“We will all need to work together to solve this.”

— Steve Englebright

The bill lays out an ambitious plan for the next 30 years, and it will be guided by a 22-member state panel called the Climate Action Council. 

The council will be made up of state agencies, scientists and individuals in the environmental justice, labor and other regulated industries. The bill requires the council to create a scoping plan that will set out recommendations for reducing emissions across all sectors of the economy, including transportation, building, industrial, commercial and agricultural. They will have to approve a scoping plan within the next two years and then update the plan at least every five years. 

Englebright said a lot is at stake with this climate plan and it is important that they are successful. 

“I would say this is the most aggressive plan to combat this climate challenge; New York should be leading the way,” he said. 

The bill will also set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to prioritize disadvantaged communities around the state, particularly those devastated by pollution and climate change. 

“The Long Island Progressive Coalition celebrates the power of the NY Renews coalition in winning a climate bill that makes New York a national leader in legally-mandated emissions cuts,” Lisa Tyson, Long Island Progressive Coalition director said in a statement. “The agreement struck on the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is a significant step forward in combating the climate crisis and moving toward a more regenerative economy for our communities — one powered by 100 percent clean renewable energy.”

Though it is considered a victory in the fight against climate change, the coalition was disappointed that some amendments were left out of the final bill. 

“We are deeply concerned that the changes in the final version of the bill weaken the original intent we set out as a coalition to directly invest resources in vulnerable communities,” Tyson said in a statement. “Although the bill includes a nod toward prevailing wage, the governor’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act removes mandates to secure specific worker protections, job growth and training included in previous editions of the Climate and Community Protection Act, which are essential to a just transition off of fossil fuels.”

Other county officials weighed in on the passage of the bill. 

“As chair of the Suffolk County Environment Committee, I understand how crucial it is to our children’s futures that we take measurable steps to counteract human-induced climate change,” Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said in a statement. “I am proud to say that I am from a state that recognizes the importance of environmental consciousness, and that takes the action necessary toward progress. I commend Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for reaching an agreement that will ensure measurable reductions in carbon emissions and promote clean energy and a greener economy.”

Once the bill is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), it will become law. 

Englebright stressed it is going to take a collaborative effort to make sure this plan will work. 

“It is going to take recognition from people that this is not some made up problem, It is not a fake science,” he said. “We will need to work together to solve this.” 

Scientists from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change have been recommending to policymakers the 70 to 85 percent reduction of fossil fuel use by 2050 to curb the worst impacts of a warming planet.

Cutting costs, growing local economy, combatting climate change, modernizing transportation among Romaine’s goals for ‘18

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine at his state of the town address April 3. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is nothing if not confident about the future of the town he oversees.

Brookhaven Town’s leader delivered his annual state of the town address at Town Hall April 3 in which he touted its financial footing while also looking toward the future.

“The state of Brookhaven Town is good and getting better,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven Town, though not perfect, is still a town full of promise and hope. It is up to all of us who live here to help realize that promise.”

“Brookhaven Town, though not perfect, is still a town full of promise and hope. It is up to all of us who live here to help realize that promise.”

—Ed Romaine

Brookhaven has a structurally balanced budget for the current fiscal year that stays within the state mandated tax levy increase cap, in addition to maintaining its AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s financial services company. Romaine detailed a few cost-saving measures he said he’d like to accomplish going forward, including more sharing of services amongst other municipalities as a way to streamline government and save taxpayer money.

“Sharing resources and services to reduce the size, scope and cost of government is one of the best ways to control and reduce expenses,” he said, adding the town remains in the running for a shared services grant from New York state that, if selected, would add $20 million to Brookhaven’s effort. “We must continue to closely monitor our capital and operating expenses. Our residents cannot pay more in taxes. Too many Long Islanders are leaving.”

He said growing the local economy through additional jobs was another priority for him and the town going forward. Romaine said he still hopes Brookhaven will be selected as the second national headquarters for Amazon, which he said could bring in about 50,000 jobs to the town. He also praised the work of the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, an arm of municipalities dedicated to funding projects that will stimulate job creation and economic growth.

“The IDA closed on 20 projects that will result in $435 million of private investment and the creation of 4,050 permanent or construction jobs,” the supervisor said. “In addition, the IDA has 13 approved projects that have or are about to close in 2018, with the potential for another $440 million of private investment into our town, creating or retaining another 1,000 jobs.”

Romaine detailed several “green” initiatives already underway or on the horizon in 2018, noting the real threat to Brookhaven posed by climate change and sea level rise.

“With the largest coastline of any town in New York state, the Town of Brookhaven knows full well that global climate change and sea level rise is real and poses significant challenges in the decades ahead.”

— Ed Romaine

“With the largest coastline of any town in New York state, the Town of Brookhaven knows full well that global climate change and sea level rise is real and poses significant challenges in the decades ahead,” he said.

He said the town has adopted a practice of “strategic retreat” from commercial and residential development in low lying areas to allow nature to reclaim wetlands. He called land use and zoning among the most important powers a town government possesses. He also pointed to the imminent closure of Brookhaven’s landfill as a wakeup call in need of attention in the coming years. He said the town is ready to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and other towns to formulate a regional plan for solid waste disposal.

The supervisor also made an impassioned call for updates to the Long Island Rail Road, including electrification of the Port Jefferson line east beyond the Huntington station, adding he co-authored a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority asking for just that with Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

“It is time for a better transportation system, one based on 21st century innovation, not 19th century technology,” Romaine said.