Picture Above: An uninhabitable house at Lazy Point, on Gardiners Bay in East Hampton Town, which has been surrounded by water for nearly two decades.
The East Hampton Town Board unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a climate emergency March 4, joining more than 1,800 municipalities and nations around the world in pledging to put the impact on the climate first in its decisions, and throwing down the gauntlet to other local towns and school districts to join the cause.
East Hampton, at the far southeast tip of Long Island, has seen some of the greatest local impacts of increasingly severe storms, coastal erosion, sea level rise and other environmental hazards, like the northward creep of the southern pine beetle that has infested the Northwest Woods.
East Hampton Town has long been at the forefront of local work to combat climate change, pledging in 2014 to generate all the energy used in the town through renewable sources by the year 2030.
East Hampton is joining cities like Boston and New York City, along with small resort towns like Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island in Maine and 11 of the 15 towns on Cape Cod, in pledging to put the impact on the climate first in its decision-making process.
Members of the town’s Energy Sustainability Committee drafted the 795-word resolution, which they first presented to the town board at its Feb. 9 work session.
“We need to say, forcefully and unequivocally to the community and the world that what has been done is not enough,” said the committee’s vice president, Paul Muñoz, as he introduced the resolution. “We must declare it is imperative to make fossil fuel elimination and an immediate transition to clean energy the measure and the standard by which every possible decision is made at the town level from here going on forward.”
Committee member Biddle Duke, who worked on the language of the resolution with fellow members Francesca Rheannon and Lena Tabori, read the proposed resolution, which laid out the dangers to the community, including damage to infrastructure, property, wildlife and the coast, the fishing industry, and damage caused by invasive species, contaminated water supply and possible health threats to residents.
“The scope and scale of action necessary to stabilize the climate and biosphere will require unprecedented levels of local, national and global public awareness, engagement, and deliberation to develop and implement effective and just policies to address the climate crisis,” according to the resolution. “East Hampton should act as a global leader by escalating its efforts to convert to an ecologically, socially, and economically regenerative local economy at emergency speed, as well as advocating for local regional, national, and international efforts necessary to reverse global warming and the ecological crisis.”
The resolution calls on the town to make all its decisions through the lens of their impact on the climate, update its Climate Action Plan, first drafted in 2015, and to educate and engage the community in the effort.
Ms. Tabori pointed out that the 2015 plan was drafted before New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed last year. The state is now in the process of implementing numerous facets of that act.
“We did not have the New York State structure to think about at that time [when drafting the 2015 plan],” said Ms. Tabori. “Now recommendations are beginning to come in, and they will affect how our plan gets reconstructed…. There will be grants available to municipalities throughout the state.”
The resolution also calls for certified copies of the resolution to be sent to federal, state, and Suffolk County leaders, as well as “the town and village boards of East Hampton, Southampton, Shelter Island and Southold, requesting that all their relevant support and assistance in carrying out this resolution be provided.”
Southampton Town’s Green Advisory Committee is considering presenting a similar resolution to the Southampton Town Board.
East Hampton Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez made several recommendations regarding strengthening the focus on educating the public in the resolution, and recommended the town also invite local school boards to adopt similar resolutions.
“They make decisions every day that affect climate,” she said.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc pointed out that, in addition to the coastal impacts, storms and the pine beetles, the East End has faced the “complete loss of its bay scallop crop two years in a row,” likely due, at least in part, to warming waters.
“This really is a crisis now,” he said. “We’ve been seeing the domino effect of loss of species, mass extinction that faces us. Life will go on on this planet, but will we have the wisdom to ensure that we aren’t the ones that go extinct? I’ve become more concerned as time goes on.”
“It’s well written and its a lot to take in, but it’s also very simple,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby.
“When we offered this idea a year ago, I think it scared some people. I want to thank everyone who has moved so far in such a short period of time,” said Ms. Rheannon. “It’s true that we as individuals need to do everything that we can, but here is an example of where government can move the needle so more efficiently not just systemically but for individuals.” —BY