The greatest long-term threat to Nassau County may not be property taxes. It’s likely the climate crisis. That’s why we were surprised that the county hasn’t signed the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Climate Smart Communities Pledge.
It’s vital that County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat who has supported environmental issues in the past, sign this agreement. Climate change presents two threats to Long Island — saltwater inundation of land because of rising sea levels, and stronger hurricanes because of warmer ocean waters. Each could punish Nassau with devastating blows in the coming decades.
As the climate warms, greater amounts of land-based ice from Greenland and the Antarctic flow into the seas, raising water levels. The more sea levels rise, the greater the inundation. One only need drive by the Albany Avenue boat launch in Freeport at high tide to understand the problem. Half of the parking lot is a foot to two feet underwater. Fast-forward 10, 20 or 30 years, when the sea level might have risen by a foot or two or three. The entire parking lot would be underwater, as would the Village of Freeport’s Department of Public Works yard next door and the nearby industrial district.
Magnify that problem across the South and North Shores, and you understand the dilemma we face: Act now or do nothing. Doing nothing will surely lead to disaster, scientists from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tell us. If we steadily work to reduce our carbon dioxide and methane emissions, then we might stave off the worst effects of climate change, those scientists tell us.
It isn’t too late for us to act. We are, however, running out of time. That’s why governments — at all levels — must take a stand and lower their emissions. And, no, doing so need not necessarily cost more. In fact, reducing emissions can actually save money over the long run.
So many of our government buildings were constructed during the 1950s and ’60s (or earlier), when oil was selling on the international market for $3 a barrel, and no one, save for a handful of scientists at institutions like Harvard University, understood that climate change was even a thing. So no one worried much about energy efficiency. They didn’t know better.
Now we do. Retrofitting our government buildings — including our schools — with energy-efficient technologies such as programmable thermostats, and sensors to turn lights off when no one is in a room, would undoubtedly bring enormous costs savings in the future. So, from a purely fiscal standpoint, it would make great sense to do so. When we add the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, adopting such technologies becomes a no-brainer.
The trouble is, adopting those technologies — in particular, solar — requires an upfront investment that elected leaders are often wary of making, lest they raise their budgets, and property taxes, in the short term. That’s why adopting the climate pledge requires bipartisan leadership. Our atmosphere — our precious, fragile, life-sustaining atmosphere — knows nothing of politics. It responds only to the laws of chemistry and physics.
Climate change works like this: Carbon dioxide and methane allow sunlight to pass through the atmosphere. When sunlight hits the ground, it is reradiated skyward as infrared heat. Carbon and methane trap infrared heat, which is why the Earth is warming, including our oceans. The more carbon and methane we emit from cars, power plants and factories, the more infrared heat is trapped, and the faster the Earth warms.
By reducing — and, to the degree possible, eliminating — our emissions, we slow that process, in the hope that one day soon we might even reverse it.
According to the DEC, the following local municipalities have signed the pledge: the City of Long Beach; the towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay; and the villages of East Rockaway, Great Neck Plaza, Sea Cliff and Woodsburgh. We hope and trust that list will grow in the near future.
The Climate Smart Communities Pledge
In signing the pledge, governments agree to:
• Build a climate-smart community.
• Inventory emissions, set goals and plan for climate action.
• Decrease energy use.
• Shift to clean, renewable energy.
• Use climate-smart materials management.
• Implement climate-smart land use.
• Enhance community resilience to climate change.
• Support a green-innovation economy.
• Inform and inspire the public.
• Engage in an evolving process of climate action.