Editorial: We’re on the Front Lines

It may feel like it’s been a long time since we last felt the East End was on the front lines of climate change after our region was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, but the rapid response to the potential of a direct hit from Hurricane Henri here proves that East Enders have become more resilient over the past decade.

After a year-and-a-half of living with the everyday crisis of the coronavirus, we were surprised to see cheery faces at gas lines and grocery lines and as people hauled their boats and battened down their hatches. A hurricane is a familiar threat here, so much less of an unusual crisis than the one we’ve been living in every day lately. We all know the drill for a hurricane, and we all know the familiar feeling of a community banding together to defend against and recover from a storm. 

Henri was a good drill to remind us of all we have at stake, and how much each of our individual responses will be vital to combatting crises in the years ahead. It was also a good reminder that we have the tools — from opening hurricane shelters to providing manpower for emergency response crews to preparing our families for what lies ahead — to weather a storm and to recover and rebuild afterward. We will need all these skills and more in the years ahead.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report, released in early August, paints a solemn picture of what the future is likely to hold for coastal communities around the world. Perhaps the most sobering statement in the document is that “many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.”

“Coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st Century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion,” according to the report. “Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.”

It’s been nearly three years since East Hampton Town first unveiled a draft plan to move Montauk away from the encroaching sea, and we’ve heard little about this plan in the years since, perhaps because it was a document that proved to be quite unpopular.

Indeed, East Hampton is the only town on the East End to date that has proposed any kind of retreat from our coastlines. This is something we need to start planning for now. It cannot wait until after the next superstorm.

One of the most heartening items in the IPCC Report is the dramatic way in which reducing methane emissions can combat climate change. While methane doesn’t linger in the atmosphere for long, it does pack a wallop in terms of its short-term effect on warming the atmosphere.

While methane reduction might not seem central to the East End, one of the big underreported factors in methane emissions is the anaerobic decomposition of food waste in landfills.

Composting food waste aerobically, instead of letting it fester in a landfill, is one big way we can all contribute to fighting climate change, and it’s easy to start composting right in your own backyard.

Local restaurants are also getting into the action — read more about what Lucharitos Burrito Bar is doing in this regard in this month’s Climate Local Now column on page 4 of our September print edition, written by a young woman, Brianne Brigmann, who is helping to make a difference where she works. 

Every one of us has a role to play in fighting climate change. To find out how you can help locally, visit drawdowneastend.org, or pick up a copy of “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” edited by Paul Hawken. This book is filled with 100 actions people can take individually, and as a community, to fight climate change. Drawdown East End is connecting East End residents who want to work together to implement these solutions in our communities. 

There’s an old saying — you might have heard Dr. Anthony Fauci mention it a few times in the past year, that “if you do public health correctly, everyone will think you overreacted,” because you will have averted the crisis you’d been warned could occur.

Now is the time to mitigate the potential future impacts of climate change. We only need to look to the rise of the Delta variant of Covid-19 for an example of what can happen when we don’t all work together to fight a common enemy.

The IPCC’s new report has been called a “Code Red” for humanity, and we don’t think that’s an overreaction. We need all hands on deck.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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