Climate Corner: Does The Planet Have Your Vote This November?

"Unless" poster carried by a participant in the 2017 People's Climate March in Washington D.C. Jenny Noble photo.

By Jenny Noble

In 2012, a thirsty dog named Rosie stopped to lap up a bit of water from Georgica Pond. Three hours later she was dead. A toxin called microcystin that’s commonly caused by algae blooms was found in her liver.

It’s hard not to see Rosie as the canary in the coal mine. If this could happen in the pond of Steven Spielberg and Ron Perelman, it can happen anywhere.

A short eight years later, while wild fires rage across the West, hurricanes slam the Gulf states and the ravages of global warming are already unfolding on the East End, only 43 percent of Americans still think climate change will affect them personally. And the veracity of our new reality falls along party lines. In March, about 90 percent of Democrats considered climate change a major threat to the nation, while only 31 percent of Republicans did.

How did the environment become a left wing problem? I’m a registered Democrat, but if by switching parties, I could make global warming just go away, I’d vote Republican in a heartbeat. But climate change doesn’t have a political affiliation. It’s an equal opportunity destroyer.

Fortunately, on the East End, where the economy depends on a healthy environment, protecting it transcends politics. The right and left are more in sync. Being surrounded by water on three sides puts Long Island on the frontline of climate change, and people here get this.

“It used to be about protecting our grandchildren, but we’re seeing the impacts now, right before our eyes,” observes Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming.
A combination of sea level rise, warming water temperatures and nitrogen runoff from outdated septic tanks, is causing a proliferation of toxic algae blooms that can wipe out whole marine systems — clams, crabs, oysters, scallops and all kinds of fish. We’re not just losing an industry, but a way of life.

Soon, months of choking red tides could make the water too polluted for swimming, surfing, water skiing, kite sailing, windsurfing and kayaking. It’d be safe to sail or motor through this turbid soup, but if you’re doing a yogi tree pose on a paddle board, you’d better have really good balance.

Even if your idea of beach sports would never involve more than putting up a beach umbrella, the beach itself could soon be much smaller because of erosion, and might often be closed due to frequent and powerful storms. When it is open, it may be covered with dead jelly fish, decaying bunker fish that have suffocated in oxygen-less water, and globs of leafy green algae belching up gasses that smell like rotten eggs.

For alien invasion sci-fi fans, unusually warm waters this past summer invited a deadly flesh-eating bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus to Long Island Sound. People with fresh tattoos, newly pierced ears or open cuts were advised to stay out of the water.

If you’re actually still reading this, there’s more. For land lovers, a proliferation of new tick species might make a hike in the woods lose its appeal. Even a snooze in the hammock could be tempting fate. The wrong mosquito bites and you end up with Dengue Fever. With balmier winters, we are entering what scientists call, “the era of pests and pathogens.”

Another favorite Hamptons activity that’s becoming compromised is drinking clean water. Long Island water comes from a single source aquifer. Because of sea level rise, sewage from failing septic tanks is draining right into our water supply.

And for those lucky few who can still hunker down on their estates and hang onto the good life? Meet the ghost of Christmas yet to come. If we all don’t fight together to reduce carbon emissions, that $20 million dollar waterfront mansion is just a very expensive house of cards. There’s a limit to the number of times one can rebuild with tax-payer subsidized insurance policies after each new hurricane. How long can the Army Corps of Engineers keep pouring millions of dollars into propping up beaches with environmentally detrimental seawalls? What’s the point of Suffolk County continuing to keep the beach on life support with expensive infusions of sand, if they only last three to four years?

Sooner or later, if the salt marshes that once buffered storms from tidal surges are gone and the dunes that insulated from flooding disappear, then we’ve lost the battle. There won’t be any land left to rebuild on, because the coastline itself will have washed away.
Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer, planet fans, but it is what it is. And this month, the single most important thing you can do is vote. Even if that means putting aside party loyal-ties. Even if you have to vote against your own interests (ouch!). Whatever issue you care about most, sooner or later, climate change is bound to affect it.

So vote for someone who will fight like hell to protect our environment. Then once in office, hold their feet to the fire.

Here’s a quick rundown of the candidates:

New York State Assembly District 1:

Fred Thiele (Independence Party), Incumbent Assemblyman, gets a score of 100 percent every year by the New York League of Conservation Voters (LCV) for his record of sponsoring pro-environment legislation of all kinds. He believes that harnessing offshore wind is the most effective way we can fight climate change, referring to Eastern Long Island as the “Saudi Arabia of wind energy.”

Thiele’s challenger, Heather Collins (R) works for the Suffolk County Board of Elections, has no contact information and could not be reached for comment.

New York State Senate District 1:

Anthony Palumbo (R), Incumbent Assemblyman, has a score of 67 percent by the NYLCV. He crossed party lines to vote for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act which, amongst many things, mandates 100 percent clean energy by 2040.

Laura Ahearn (D), an attorney and social worker, has worked quickly to understand the issues and promises to make our groundwater and estuaries a priority, as well as climate mitigation and resiliency.

No matter who wins, he or she should continue the legacy of Republican incumbent and climate legend Kenneth LaValle. His name is synonymous with environmental integrity.

U.S Congress District 1:

Lee Zeldin (R), Incumbent Congressman, scored 28 percent in 2019 by LCV because his record on climate initiatives is checkered at best. He has supported some environmental legislation that benefits District 1, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Plum Island.

Challenger Nancy Goroff (D), Chair of the Chemistry Department at Stony Brook University, is a scientist and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists National Advisory Board. If elected, she would bring a factual perspective to unconcerned scientists in the White House.

Now please. Vote like the planet depends on it.