BY TARA SMITH
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Local officials immediately began weighing in, but what does this mean for Long Islanders?
In 2015, President Barack Obama joined 195 other countries in Paris to agree to adopt greener energy sources by cutting down on carbon emissions, limiting global temperature rise and working towards solutions for the already unavoidable impacts of climate change.
The agreement set a global goal to limit worldwide temperatures from rising over two degrees Celsius. Scientists say that the global average temperature has already risen about one degree Celsius; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data shows 2016 to be the warmest year on record.
Developed nations including the United States also pledged $100 billion to help poorer nations transition to more sustainable practices.
Announcing the withdrawal, Trump said that the U.S. would seek a more “fair” deal, however, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni issued a joint statement dismissing any renegotiation.
Local leaders also responded to the announcement, including Supervisor Ed Romaine. “The president’s announcement regarding the Paris Climate Accord is disappointing,” Romaine said in a statement.
As town supervisor, Romaine has initiated a number of policies to help fight climate change, including single-stream recycling. “We made it easy: put everything that can be recycled into one can,” he explained, adding that he has seen roughly a 25 percent increase in recycling townwide.
“We live on an island and have already begun to see some of the effects of our rising seas,” Romaine said. Cognizant of low-lying tidal areas, especially in Mastic Beach, Romaine has worked to restore wetlands and limit development in those vulnerable areas.
Scientists predict that sea levels could rise one to five inches by 2020, and up to 12 inches by the 2050s. That rise could be accelerated if emissions are continued or increased, said Scott Mandia, assistant chair and professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College. That means areas like Mastic could be underwater by the end of this century.
Water quality also remains a top issue, and Romaine sees oyster restoration as a natural way to begin to improve waterways. The bivalves can filter 50 times their weight in water each day.
Each home constructed in Brookhaven must be solar-ready, Romaine said. But he wants to make sure solar energy is planned smartly. “We want to make sure solar goes in the right places. We want it on cleared land, rooftops and parking lots. What we don’t want to see happening is people coming in and clear-cutting our forests,” he said, in response to a recent proposal by National Grid to clear roughly 350 acres in a coastal forest preserve area in Shoreham for a solar field.
Mandia said that the key is to view climate change as a human issue — and a financial one. “Climate change can be a moneymaker if done the right way,” he said of renewables. “That’s why I’m hopeful.”
On Long Island, sea-level rise may be the most devastating effect, but he offered other perspectives as well. “I just brought my son to the doctor. We found a deer tick on him and want to make sure it isn’t Lyme disease,” he said. Climate change impacts also include a rise in ticks, West Nile virus and even poison ivy. “Poison ivy grows well in environments with higher carbon dioxide levels,” Mandia explained. He also said that allergies will increase due to higher pollen counts. “These are things that we all experience every day,” he said. “Things you can actually see. And it has a ripple effect, becoming a health and economic issue.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) said that he supports the withdrawal. “The United States approached this entire Paris climate agreement all wrong,” he said in a statement, noting that the agreement was signed without seeking congressional approval.
Zeldin also slammed the agreement’s practicality, specifically “unmanageable time constraints and energy cost increases for Americans.” Zeldin, who is a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, said that he still supports taking an international approach to protect clean air and clean water. “But we must negotiate it correctly so that we aren’t over-promising, under-delivering and causing unnecessary harm.”
Medford resident Ashley Hunt-Martorano, founder of the local chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, was not surprised at the announcement, as it was something Trump campaigned on. “It’s discouraging and makes my work a little bit harder, but we are going to keep going,” she said. On June 13, Hunt-Martorano joined 1,300 other concerned environmentalists in Washington, D.C. for a conference and a full day of meetings with members of Congress on the Hill. Over 950 people met with nearly 500 members of Congress.
CCL executive director Mark Reynolds called the president’s decision to withdraw the “biggest failure of leadership in American history.”
As a millennial, Hunt-Martorano also expressed frustration at the lack of meaningful action. “It’s frustrating that the generation above is dragging their feet, when it’s our children and our grandchildren that will be negatively affected. We’re the first generation to experience the severe impacts of climate change and the last generation to do something about it.”
Photo Caption: On the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency, more than 300,000 people in Washington D.C. and across the country joined together in a powerful demonstration of unity for jobs, justice, and climate action.
Photo by Benjamin Doyle/Shutterstock
*This story was published in the Long Island Advance, June 15, 2017.