Effects Already Here of Sea Level Rise

Sea level rise is the single greatest long-term threat to eastern Long Island, yet it is one that our towns and villages are least able to combat for practical and political reasons. 

The problems already confronting property owners and local officials are immense. In many places on the South Fork, beaches are shifting over time at a foot or more a year. This has put even some houses and other structures that were built well back from the water in the 1970s right on the beach today.

Much of the erosion is seen on the bay and Block Island Sound, rather than at the ocean. In bulkheaded parts of Springs, Amagansett, Lazy Point, and on the north side of Montauk, at Soundview from Montauk Harbor to Captain Kidd’s Path, there no longer are passable beaches. The next big trouble spot may be west of Shadmoor State Park in Montauk, where a number of houses loom on a bluff only one or two big storms away from disaster. Then there is downtown Montauk, where a $9 million Army Corps of Engineers project to save a row of motels and private residences may soon be bolstered by a far more expensive effort to pump sand there from offshore.

If that isn’t enough bad news, consider the ecological effects of rising seas, particularly in estuaries. In many places vital marsh habitats cannot migrate landward because they are hemmed in by houses. Additional losses among of these important breeding and feeding places would have dire effects on wildlife. The cause, scientists agree, is climate change, the result of human activity.

Any discussion of climate change cannot ignore Donald Trump and the fact that the president-elect described it as a Chinese hoax and has chosen a notorious climate change denier to lead his remake of the Environmental Protection Agency. This poses a grave threat to international emissions control initiatives, as well as to leadership from Washington on responsive coastal policy. A more forward-thinking president might shift responsibility away from the armor-first Army Corps of Engineers, for example.

Doubts from the top could also have a chilling effect on educators, who might water-down the message that warming is human-caused, helping create an uninformed electorate unlikely to pressure officials to take steps to reverse current climate trends.

The news is not all bad, however. New York is among a group of states taking on pollution from power plants on their own through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The Long Island Power Authority may soon greenlight an offshore wind farm that is expected to generate enough electricity for 50,000 houses, and East Hampton Town has set a goal of meeting all its power needs from renewable sources by 2030. Individual homeowners also can take steps to reduce consumption by switching to renewable energy.

Still, the president and Congress have an essential role in setting the nation’s climate policy. If Mr. Trump’s early signs are an indication of what will be his administration’s approach to climate change, bleak days are ahead.

As to the idea that climate change is a hoax, with consensus among every kind of organization from the National Academy of the Sciences to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to major oil companies including BP and Shell accepting anthropogenic global warming as real and scientifically supported, it is impossible to take the armchair protests of the deniers seriously. They should be given no credence, especially from the White House.