Editorial: A New Normal?

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It’s a time when “normal” is in flux in so many ways. The old adage about the frog in the pot of water hardly noticing that the water is getting closer and closer to boiling — it’s never been more relevant.

Among the many examples is, locally, there is barely a reaction to what are, individually, truly alarming signs of environmental crisis. There are the warnings about blue-green algae in local bodies of waters, something that hardly existed a decade ago but now becomes nearly a weekly event — and a condition so severe it can sicken or even kill some animals and susceptible humans (and now appears to present a health threat when it is carried airborne some distance away).

There are the regular air quality advisories that reach all the way to Eastern Long Island, where there is no industry to speak of and plenty of steady sea breezes, but nothing adequate to keep away the toxins. There are the rising waters, which now have a tangible impact on the ferries to and from Shelter Island, so much so that they must reconsider the infrastructure accommodating both the ships and the cars.

Shellfishing grounds become off limits after heavy rains, because instead of providing a healthy flushing from above, the rains merely slurry in more and more pollution from roadways and chemically treated lawns, and leaky septic tanks. Private drinking wells are contaminated with PFOA and PFOS, that’s clear; what’s not clear is how many, or to what extent, or how much is too much.

There’s nothing new in any of the above. Most readers probably skipped those paragraphs, because they already know this. Awareness is not the issue — we all know. The concern is that it’s steadily becoming normal. Sure, the water is getting warmer, but it’s not so bad yet …

And most people are not simply sitting in the pot. There are real efforts to address the global effects locally, and the local effects that are our own little homegrown cataclysms. Money is pouring toward potential solutions, with more to come, and some very intelligent and committed people are working every day to reverse the trends. It took decades to get the water as warm as it is now, and it will take more than a few years to cool it back off again. It might boil before we get the chance.

What’s important is to keep the momentum — and that means not accepting any of this as normal. This is all evidence of a very abnormal moment for the region’s ecosystem. It can never be the new normal, or there truly is no going back.

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