Editorial: Climate change is here and it is now

A map of warming temperatures across the United States that ran this month in The Washington Post shows that all of Long Island has already approached a significant threshold in how scientists measure climate change and its future impact.

This threshold — that average temperatures have climbed close to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1895 — is one set by the international community as the number we don’t want to surpass. The Post’s story showed that the rise in neighboring New Jersey is double the average for the lower 48 states. The map showed most of New Jersey in a bright red color; Long Island was the same.

In our current fractured and mindlessly ugly political landscape, the subject of climate change has become dangerously warped by some parties who, for reasons that defy logic, proclaim that it is either a “hoax” — a word President Trump has used — or is exaggerated to the point that no one should pay attention to it.

Some issues now being argued among elected officials have two sides to them. This one doesn’t. Those following the president’s lead on this should be voted out of office at the first opportunity. It isn’t just that they are being willfully ignorant. It’s far worse than that. They are being willfully ignorant about something that’s a serious threat to all of us, here and worldwide, and must be addressed with great urgency.

To many, climate change is the issue of our time, and certainly in this political cycle. Many parts of the world already have massive refugee problems as people flee turmoil, hoping for safety elsewhere. A rise in temperatures that renders large swaths of the planet unlivable will produce a staggering crisis involving millions of desperate people fleeing homelands where water and food are in short supply.

This is not — and shouldn’t be — a right or left, red or blue issue. We need our elected and appointed officials to act and to act now. If they can’t, or won’t, or want to pretend the issue was invented by some cabal — President Trump once tweeted that the Chinese were behind it — they should not have a seat at the table.

We can put up with a lot in our representative democracy. Give and take between the two parties can make us stronger, as we can see going back to the founding of this country. Stupidity, however, is not something we should ever have to put up with.

At the recent G7 meeting in France, a session on climate change produced agreement that the raging fires in the Amazon rainforest — rightly called the world’s lungs — must be addressed immediately. President Trump did not attend that meeting. He has ceded American leadership on the world’s stage on this critical issue.

Thankfully, not all members of the president’s party agree with him: Last week, in Utah, Sen. Mitt Romney said climate change is already underway, that human activity is to blame and that fierce western wildfires are now far more common.

His common-sense position is that a carbon tax on each ton of carbon dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuel should, in part, be channeled back to coal workers in rural communities who will suffer as the nation moves to cleaner power.

As part of its effort to map the world’s 2C hot spots, or the fastest-warming places, the Post staff studied, among a host of sources, temperature databases kept by NOAA and NASA. One location highlighted in the story was Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey’s largest, where the lack of winter ice has ended generations of winter rituals.

The lake is now polluted with harmful blue-green algae that would have died off in freezing water. As a consequence, the lake was closed this summer for public safety reasons.

“Temperatures have risen by 2C in Los Angeles and three neighboring counties,” the Post wrote. “New York City is also warming rapidly, and so are the very different areas around it, such as the beach resorts in the Hamptons and leafy Westchester County.”

The Northeast is warming “especially fast,” according to the story, which quotes a climate scientist at Rutgers University. Some other findings: Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island has warmed by 1.6 degrees Celsius (2.9 degrees Fahrenheit) and, as a result, the state’s lobster catch has plummeted 75%.

Along the Rhode Island shoreline, pricey waterfront homes have been endangered by storms to the point where hundreds have been relocated. One can only imagine the expenses that taxpayers will be asked to shoulder when this happens on a widespread scale.

Climate change is happening now. It is not a future event. One idea might be for the town boards and trustee boards of the five East End towns to form some sort of joint commission to gather all the data needed to see where we stand now, and to come up with plans that could then be carried out over the coming years, as we all share the bounty and beauty of Peconic Bay. Perhaps all five towns could share the costs as well.

Thankfully, Southold Town government has a strong environmental record and taking another big step forward would be in keeping with that record.

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