The gazebo at Reeves Beach in Riverhead after recent winter storms. |. Tom Shaffery photo

by Mark Haubner and Mary Morgan

What Are We Thinking?

More like, How are we thinking? If you do a quick search of local news sources for ‘Reeves Park Beach Pavilion storm 2024’ you will see a resident’s pictures of what massive amounts of water do to our properties. 

The pavilion was constructed at the bottom of a steep hill, which is further constructed of an asphalt roadway and gray concrete curbing. It’s surrounded uphill by residences with the usual Long Island fare of asphalt driveways and gray cobblestone curbing. The only choice that rainwater has is to follow the hardscape. 

We have channeled the water successfully, and in anticipation, laid down ‘gabion mats’ (hefty gray rocks in a wire cage), focused the flow into a gray steel pipe which then flings the oily road water out onto the beach below to find its way into the Sound.

We Are at the Top of the Food Chain

We weren’t always at the top of the heap — saber-toothed tigers were an issue 300,000 years ago, wild boars were an unwelcome sight unless you were well prepared to defend yourself (and still are in the woods of Georgia), and we feared giant sea serpents coming from the depths of the oceans as we sailed.

Except for sharks and bears, we’ve pretty much decimated everything bigger than ourselves that will cause our death, and even these creatures are at risk for elimination because of the stories we tell ourselves — no different than the sailors of yore, just a different set of fears. 

Take a look at the statistics for shark attacks in the U.S. (Science News) and we see that we have an equal chance of being struck by lightning (Centers for Disease Control) as being lunch for a shark.

And now we fight much different foes, not bigger than we, but more deadly by multiples of 1,000 — foes that, numbering in the millions, fit on the head of a pin and have killed seven million people in the last four years (Covid-19), foes that have sickened us chronically for life (ticks) and foes that bring us diseases that we thought only belonged to Typhoid Mary 150 years ago (mosquitoes).

Controlling the Natural World

Dominate, control, compete — every bit of the story we tell ourselves about business, about nature, about life — is about putting ourselves first. If not, we’ll lose out, lose ground, lose face, lose money. To share information is to lose our advantage over someone else (Statista) and if we do end up sharing for a mutual benefit, it will be at some cost to the other party in an entirely transactional scheme of cooperation.

Yet we cannot control the natural world of 30-foot tidal surges or 200-mile-per-hour hurricane winds or wildfires moving faster than you can pedal a bicycle (Western Fire Chiefs Association) or even cool a human body outdoors in 90-degree (F) heat when the humidity is 90 percent. To try to compete and win against these foes is deadly folly.

Allowing Earth to Guide Us

Up until some 12,000 years ago, at the beginnings of some agrarian cultures, people lived by the tried-and-true practices of thousands of generations, constantly observing and learning and expanding their knowledge. We shared all of this with everyone because it increased our knowledge base and improved our chances of survival. This seems like a selfish motive, and if it had been a one-on-one relationship this might be true — but it was for the survival and improvement of the family, the group, the community that this culture of cooperation was developed.

Yes, we, like the residents near Reeves Park, want to protect our property.  We have new knowledge on the most resilient way to do that, called Nature-based solutions, where we work with Nature, not against her.

These solutions cover a broad range of actions to protect, restore or sustainably manage landscapes, seascapes, watersheds and urban areas. 

Bioswales are a perfect example of how we can cooperate with the natural processes of Nature. Bioswales are dug to a depth of four feet or so, sometimes lined with rocks, padded with mulch and planted with native grasses or perennials, and absorb and retain stormwater runoff. This is all for pennies on the dollar, compared with their gray concrete counterparts. By slowing the flow of rainwater and directing it downward into our sole-source aquifer, we will see the benefit of a much more effective, long-lasting and far less expensive alternative to stormwater runoff than our gray solutions.(The old-way reconstruction of the Reeves Park Pavilion is estimated to be $175,000, bioswales would cost 1/10th of that.)  

Look around. Be Prepared, as the Scout’s motto goes. Anticipate the storm surges and once-in-a-century weather events. Let’s be proactive with solutions like restoring wetlands to buffer our shores from flood waters, or creating eelgrass forests and oyster reefs that provide nurseries for fish and also protect nearby homes from storm damage, or restoring our local woods for biodiversity and aquifer recharge.  

We can change the way we think by simply observing the way Nature has thrived on her own for hundreds of thousands of years. Harness the power of Nature to benefit both the built environment and the natural one. 

Gray is not the best color for our infrastructure any longer.

Mark Haubner has been recycling newspaper since 1965, and not seeing his example being followed by everyone on the planet, started learning Science Communication in earnest about six years ago. He got a Certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California at San Diego (the daily commute was grueling) and now writes Community Based Social Marketing programs for the various nonprofits with which he is involved.

Former Locavore, now a Climatarian, sailor, beachcomber Mary Morgan lives in Orient with her husband Tom, naturalist and mushroom forager, early founders the local chapter Slow Food East End in 2004. Four years ago Mary co-founded a grassroots East End effort inspired by Project Drawdown dedicated to local solutions to reverse global warming. 

Climate Local Now is a partnership between the East End Beacon and two leaders of a grass-roots group inspired by the science of Project Drawdown to advance local climate solutions.

East End Beacon
The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

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