Mom Earth played tricks on Inlet Lane in Greenport in October of 2012.
Mom Earth played tricks on Inlet Lane in Greenport in October 2012.

I’m a big fan of seeing kids draw pretty pictures of trees, of picking up litter, and planting native gardens, but for some reason this Earth Day none of these things seemed like the right thing to do for Mom Earth.

I was scheduled to drop off a friend from the North Fork at MacArthur Airport Friday morning, and wouldn’t you know, the whole big Twin Fork bypass from the North Fork to the South Fork, Route 105 (AKA Cross River Drive), was blocked off because of a bad, bad accident.

Now, this is obviously awful for the people involved in the accident, but it was also pretty awful for all the people from Flanders who had to keep appointments with airplanes that day. Anyone who wanted to cross the river spent a fair amount of their day in traffic.

My whole family lives on the other side of that river from me, and if the flood waters rose around here, I’d be hard pressed to find them. That fact never seemed important to me until the Earth Day traffic jam.

Emergency response people like to say that, in a big natural disaster type of situation, sometimes the best thing to do is shelter in place. As the East End becomes a more populous place, i’m beginning to doubt that we will have the resources here to shelter in place. But it’s better than being stuck out on the highway when a disaster happens.

While I was sitting in that traffic jam, I turned on the radio. NPR was interviewing former NYC mayor and media magnate Michael Bloomberg and the mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robinson, about political will and climate change.

Mr. Bloomberg said the media needs to report the truth about climate change, and not pander to the political whim of the day, or to candidates for public office who still haven’t gotten their heads around what the warming climate is all about.

This includes numerous people currently running for President of the United States.

Now some very conservative people understand that climate change is real and is already having an impact on the world, including people who run multinational corporations and major insurance companies. These are people who understand a threat that could damage their businesses. But the bottom line is the very bottom of the barrel when it comes to climate denial.

When systems change in the big, big world, they create feedback loops that magnify those changes, and sometimes those feedback loops become unstoppable long before we all agree that they are a problem. And that’s where the urgency is coming from among the people who are most concerned about climate change.

Mr. Bloomberg said that if national representatives won’t act, it’s up to mayors and other small-time leaders to do so.

So in that spirit, here’s my Earth Day take on what the East End’s elected officials are doing about climate change:

East Hampton wins a great big gold star for facing climate change head-on. They really don’t have a choice. As a representative from PSEG-Long Island told their town board last week, East Hampton always does seem to be in the eye of the storm. And Montauk, well, everyone who saw what Montauk was like after Superstorm Sandy understands the need to act.

From climate action plans to renewable energy pledges to making sure shelters are prepared for storms, it seems this issue is solidly on the front burner of every member of the East Hampton Town Board.

Also, pretty peach blossoms. Happy Earth Day!
Also, pretty peach blossoms. Happy Earth Day! (um, chemtrails, maybe, too)

And with John Sousa-Botos, the former Executive Director of the Peconic Institute, now an integral part of the town’s Natural Resources Department, constantly pitching new programs for East Hampton to develop a more resilient and sustainable future, East Hampton really seems to have the right attitude to face this threat head-on.

There are plenty of people working on sustainability issues in Southampton Town, which has an active and engaged office of energy and sustainability. I also have a lot of faith that the newly elected members of the Southampton Town Board care about this issue.

What I do find troubling is the board’s propensity over the past several years to capitulate to a vocal group of Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists, who seem convinced of such things as President Barack Obama’s chemtrail plan to kill Merle Haggard.

The only thing I don’t understand about this theory is that, if climate change isn’t real, what motive would Barack Obama have to spread cooling chemicals all over the country just to kill Merle Haggard, especially after he invited Mr. Haggard over to the White House to receive a Kennedy Center honor? This is a mystery for Columbo to figure out.

Unless the White House doctored the video and Merle Haggard didn’t really receive a Kennedy Center honor. In which case, why not? You know what other Okie ‘didn’t’ get a Kennedy Center honor? Woody Guthrie. That’s because he died before there was a Kennedy Center. But he did get a big party there on his 100th Birthday. He didn’t live to see it. Come to think of it, maybe chemtrails killed Woodie Guthrie too. Come to think of it, Merle Haggard is from California, so why did he sing that Okie song anyway? Help me, now I’m lost in the land of conspiracy.

I have some hope that the new members of the Southampton Town Board, in their updates underway to their much-maligned Water Protection Plan, will address sea level rise and other climate-related issues.

But the town’s decision to water down their Sustainability Plan two years ago, substituting phrases like “should consider” for “will do,” and their new plan to stuff the water plan full of similar wishy-washy language, makes me wonder why they’re even bothering to plan anything at all. There’s no point of planning anything if you’re not willing to act on your plans. If I was your boss, I might have fired some of y’all. Wait, I am your boss. I live and vote in this town but I don’t get up at town board meetings and say how I feel. The joke is on me.

Southold Town does a great job with emergency response. They really do. I’ve seen their team in action and they’re knowledgeable people who really care about their constituents and want to make the town a safe place. Far out at the tip of the island, they’ve dealt with a lot of similar issues to East Hampton when it comes to FEMA recovery efforts and all of the bureaucracy that goes along with that.

But there seem to be an awful lot of people in Southold who care about this issue, and their cries for action seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Marine biologist Doug Hardy, backed by numerous environmentalists in town, presented a paper to the Southold Town Board titled “The Starvation of Southold’s Beaches” in January of 2015, pleading with the board to do a coastal erosion study. There’s been maybe a drop in the bucket of attention paid to the issue in Southold since.

I’ve yet to see any member of the Riverhead Town Board even mention the words climate change. They all seem far too busy bickering about how much they don’t like one another to even see the woods being torn down all over their town.

I’d been hoping to spend this morning running the North Fork Environmental Council’s inaugural Earth Day 5K at Indian Island County Park, but it turns out that Congressman Lee Zeldin is holding a press conference at the exact same time about a major announcement about the future of Plum Island.

If you read this ranting opinion piece (did I mention this is a ranting opinion piece?) before 10 a.m. today, please consider going down to Indian Island to run the race. The NFEC is a great group of volunteers who care very deeply about the future of the North Fork, and they need our help continuing to do their good work.

Now, about Plum Island. Preserving Plum Island is not a partisan issue. In fact, the bill Mr. Zeldin has introduced to decouple the moving of the lab there from the sale of the island was originally proposed by his Democratic predecessor, Timothy Bishop.

A whole bunch of people are hoping Plum Island becomes a wildlife refuge, and if that comes to pass, a whole bunch of people will have played a role in making it happen. I hope they all get credit for it.

Now Lee Zeldin seems like a nice, hardworking young man, and I wish him all the best. But his voting record in Congress on issues ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to regulations on dirty coal seems to prove to me that climate change is an issue that he doesn’t understand at all.

That is very troubling for the future of the First Congressional District, but maybe Lee Zeldin just hasn’t heard from enough of you who care about Mom Earth to realize that you are all an important voting block for him to court.

If you think all of this is rubbish and that global warming is all about cow farts and methane, well I hear you. It’s hard to believe in something we don’t see every day. But if we all believe in cheeseburgers, as good Americans should do, then getting rid of all the cows really isn’t going to be the answer to our problems, and it’s not going to stop our atmosphere from checking out on us anyway. Mom Earth was here first, and she doesn’t really need us.

In the meantime, here’s some info on how to stay safe on our big brave new Planet Earth. Also this is for pachamama from the East End’s Peruvian flute master Walter Purizaca.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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

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