At the turn of the 20th century, environmental protection meant preserving wilderness so future generations might know nature as the great environmentalists Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir knew it — bountiful and largely pristine.
Some 120 years later, saving wild tracts of land remains a central focus of the burgeoning environmental movement, but there’s an added mission: preparing for the eventuality of climate change, the slow heating of the earth over time.
New York state took a major step forward recently when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature included a $3 billion proposal, called the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, in the state budget. Bravo to State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, a Democrat from Setauket, for working to push through this measure as chairmen of the Environmental Conservation committees in their respective chambers.
State residents will vote on the bond act in the November general election. We’re throwing our hat in the ring early on this one: We encourage people to approve this measure.
In addition to protecting forested lands, particularly those that help preserve our drinking water supply, the bond act would allocate at least $1 billion for projects to help protect Long Island and New York City from future flooding caused by global warming.
More than half-century’s worth of scientific data, accumulated by federal agencies like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, point to a disturbing, and increasingly undeniable, trend: The earth is heating up, causing massive ice shelves in the Antarctic and Greenland to melt into the oceans, raising sea levels across the world.
That spells potential disaster for Long Island. We are, after all, an island surrounded by oceanic waters. We might be able to cope with a one-foot rise in sea level. If the oceans were to rise three or more feet — as many leading scientists predict — that could put whole swaths of our shoreline underwater, if we don’t act now to bolster our shoreline defenses.
We can’t afford to stick our heads in the sand of our pristine white beaches and hope for the best. Those beaches may not exist in the future if we do.
Beyond undertaking flood-mitigation projects, the bond act would allot up to $700 million for green-energy projects intended to slow the rate of global warming. Traditional power plants that burn coal, oil and natural gas emit massive amounts of carbon dioxide — the main driver of climate change — into the atmosphere. Green-energy sources — wind, solar and geothermal — emit nothing. That is, they are carbon-free.
Green energy represents our future. Now, not later, is the time to begin transitioning to a carbon-free energy grid. There are sound reasons beyond fighting climate change to do so. Coal and oil were once plentiful resources in the United States, but not anymore. They may not have dried up yet, but every day that we burn through our supply of fossil fuels brings us one day closer to the point of no return, when they will be used up for good. If we’re extracting an oil called bitumen from open-pit tar-sand mines in Canada — an extraordinarily labor-intensive, costly and environmentally damaging process — then we know we’re reaching the end of the fossil-fuel-as-king era.
Our only alternative path, for now at least, is green energy.
Finally, the bond act would allocate $550 million to improve drinking-water quality across the state. For decades, Long Island has struggled to maintain the quality of its drinking water. Our water is piped up from aquifers, pockets of fresh water hundreds of feet below ground. Most chemicals that we apply to or dump into the ground eventually make their way into the aquifers, from industrial degreasers and lawn herbicides to gasoline that spills from filling stations.
Water is our most precious resource, yet so often in the past we have treated it as if it mattered not at all. In recent years, however, we have begun to focus on protecting our water resources, and the bond act would only further efforts to preserve our aquifers.
We can look around the world and see example after example of environmental disaster. We know this: Once we have made a mess of the natural world, it’s really hard to clean it up. Working proactively to preserve the environment is always best, and the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, if passed, would do exactly that.