Climate change is literally making Long Island shorter.
Continued erosion is just one of the local impacts of human-caused, greenhouse gas emissions and the consequent shifts in the weather that’s changing the planet and Long Island, experts say.
Monday’s report by a United Nations-commissioned scientific body called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that the impacts of climate change are inevitable but that there is still a shrinking opportunity to prevent even more ruin.
On Long Island, the impacts are particularly noticeable, more so than in much of the country, due to its proximity to the water, experts say.
“Long Island is already suffering from climate-change impacts. We have sea-level rise, an increase in the frequency of flooding of the mainland. We have the cost of fixing the infrastructure that’s been flooded,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, adding: “We’ve lost our shellfish industry. We have more frequent flooding. We have more frequent torrential rainfall than we’ve ever had before. And then we have the real threat of the greater intensification of storms and hurricanes.”
One of the most noticeable impacts of climate change came locally in 2012, with Superstorm Sandy.
Daniel Zarrilli, former chief climate policy adviser to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and now a special adviser at Columbia University, warned of more treacherous storms and inland flooding, leading to greater chances of damage to infrastructure, damage to housing and more. There is the risk of more people being sickened or dying of heat-related illnesses, plus damaged infrastructure, and worsened public health.
“It’s gonna get hotter,” Zarrilli said. “There’s gonna be more average heat, more heat waves. It’s gonna get wetter. We’re gonna have more intense rain. We’re going to have more intense rain storms, and we’re gonna continue to see sea-level rise.”
He added: “We saw it in 2012, with Hurricane Sandy. There’s a continuing increased risk of coastal storms, as sea levels rise. The bigger storms are getting more intense, and the likelihood of flooding is going to continue to increase over time.”
Zarrilli said that burning fossil fuels — burning coal, oil and gas — is “primary driver of global warming, which is causing these impacts,” he said the report has found.
“it’s not too late to do something,” even on a local level, to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, so “every bit of carbon we put in the atmosphere matters at this point.”
Remember the lobster
Lobster, and the lobster industry, once flourished on Long Island, with dozens if not hundreds of lobster boats working in Long Island Sound. But by 1999, the industry disappeared as the Island’s waters got too warm for the marine crustaceans to survive, according to Christopher J. Gobler, professor of marine sciences at Stony Brook University.
“That fishery collapsed due to the Sound getting too warm in 1999, and It’s never recovered. The Sound just keeps getting warmer and there’s no chance of that fishery ever coming back.”
And as the Sound gets warmer, other marine life, and the fisheries that rely on their presence, are in peril.
Take blue mussels, a cold-water adapted species. The water is getting too warm and the blue muscles can’t survive. Recently, the mussels couldn’t be found except in the coldest waters off Long Island. Soon, they might not be able to be found at all.
“It’s really just a matter of time,” he said.
A similar phenomenon is being seen with winter flounder “that used to be a huge fishery.”
Now, not so much. Meanwhile, black sea bass, which prefer warmer water, can be found in the waters off Long Island, which never used to be here.
“Black sea bass, you can find almost everywhere now,” he said. “And winter flounder you can find almost nowhere now.”
Higher tides lead to inland flooding
Higher tides due to climate change floods not just roads, but also septic systems, causing not just a headache for homeowners who must cope with septic failures but a risk for the whole Island, Gobler said.
“When the tides get higher, that actually pushes groundwater inland, and so for many coastal communities where they had septic systems that were just fine when they were put in, as the sea level rises, the groundwater moves up, people’s septic systems are then all of a sudden being literally in water and being in groundwater,” he said.
Plus, failed septic systems equal more polluted water for everyone else.
“It just goes right into the groundwater, and on the low tide it goes right into the surface water.”
He added: “If you’re in a coastal area or near a coastal area, it could be that your system that used to drain fine won’t be draining because it’s getting pushed up by groundwater.”
Climate change leads to more floods, more storms, more hurricanes — and exacerbates their strength.
In certain places, particularly on the South Shore, roadways flood even on sunny days. That will happen more often.
“There are some neighborhoods in Long Island — there’s no rain, there’s no storm, but because the tide’s so extreme, suddenly a whole neighborhood’s under water,” Gobler said.
He pointed to Dune Road in Southampton, which has needed to be raised up because of progressively rising sea levels.
“You’d have to time your trip down Dune Road because if you went at the wrong high tide, you’d get stuck,” he said. He added: “When the glaciers melt off of Greenland, that water’s going right into the ocean and raising our waters.”
This is a problem in places like the Mastic-Shirley area. Expect it to be seen elsewhere, too.
Esposito lamented those so-called sunny-day flooding events.
“It’s a beautiful, sunny day. There’s no rain. And yet, the streets are still flooded, in Mastic and Lindenhurst. And that’s directly attributable to sea-level rise.”
Esposito pointed to the Bay Park Water Reclamation Facility, which needed to have an 8-foot sea wall around it.
Affect on insurance coverage
Expect more expensive, and potentially no, insurance coverage.
Just as UN climate scientists are warning the public, insurance companies are doing their own research and concluding that insuring certain parts of Long Island like the South Shore, as with some other coastal communities across the United States, is going to cost more, and in some cases not be worth the risk, according to Esposito.
Expect higher premiums to insure your property, and potentially for applications for coverage to be rejected altogether for coverage, she said.
“They’ve done the calculations, and it’s not in their favor,” Esposito said, adding: “That’s scary. That’s when it’s real — when insurance companies have done the math, and they feel the threat is great.”