Climate Change Is Hitting New York’s Long Island Hard But Some Are Pushing Ideology Aside to Fight It

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Just off mainland New York State and containing the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Long Island’s geographical location is prime real estate. Its beaches are some of the most desirable in the country, and it boasts a vibrant wine industry. It’s also dramatically experiencing the impacts of climate change.

As the climate changes, the spaces inhabited by humans are changing, too. So while Long Island has avoided some of this year’s more dramatic climate change-driven weather events, like the wildfires ravaging the West Coast, the more intense storms that have hit the Gulf Coast, and the severe drought in the midwest, it is not immune. In many ways, Long Island’s experience of climate change, and people’s reaction to it, is a microcosm of what is happening around the country and around the world.

“Human-caused climate change is us burning fossil fuels, releasing tons of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And that acts as a thickening blanket,” CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Beradelli told Inside Edition Digital. “The more carbon dioxide we have, the thicker the blanket is, just like a comforter on your bed. It traps heat in. So we are making that comforter thicker and thicker and thicker and that's causing the temperatures to warm all across the Earth, both in the atmosphere and more importantly, in the oceans.”

Long Island was actually formed because of natural changes to the climate 15,000 years ago.

“The leftover boulders that were pushed by these giant glaciers 10,000 years ago, and around 15,000 years ago, everything started to recede and it left what is Long Island and New York City.... That was natural climate change. That happened over the course of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years. What we're doing right now is we are manipulating the climate on decadal timeframes, so tens of years. We've been manipulating the climate for a little over a hundred years now because of the industrial revolution burning fossil fuels,” Beradelli says.

“There is a lesson to be learned and shame on us if we don't learn it,” Long Island Town of Islip Supervisor, and lifelong Republican, Angie Carpenter told Inside Edition Digital.

Carpenter is one of those who are trying to change the minds and hearts of their neighbors, putting ideology aside to help curb the impacts of climate change

“I really wanted to make a difference, and try to get the message out that there is a problem with climate change, and really it goes back to [Superstorm] Sandy, back in 2012. That was devastating,” Charlie Avalos, a Long Island volunteer for Citizens Climate Lobby, an organization who raises awareness of climate change, told Inside Edition Digital.

In 2012, Long Island and parts of the East Coast were rocked by Superstorm Sandy which destroyed part of the coastline, caused intense flooding and power outages as well as massive property damage which is still being dealt with. 

“We did see it with Sandy, the damage, and to this day, eight or nine years later there are people that are still not back in their homes, sad to say. Not a lot but there still are some that are struggling to get back in their homes whether to have it lifted or whatever they needed to do to have it be a safe environment for their families,” Carpenter said.

“Storms can stay stronger for longer because water temperatures are warmer. So undoubtedly [Superstorm] Sandy had at least some impact from warmer water temperatures,” Beradelli said.

Sandy was for many Long Islanders a wake-up call, but that seemingly once-in-a-generation storm can happen more frequently because of climate change.

“The storms that come in that are the strong nor'easters, with higher sea levels already, are producing storm surge flooding,” Beradelli said. “So we're seeing a lot more coastal flooding days in New Jersey, in Long Island, in New York City than we used to see. A lot more. Exponentially more. It's growing very, very quickly.”

But as Long Island experiences climate change-enhanced erosion of its beaches, sees farms flooding more frequently hurting the multi-million dollar wine industry on the East End, and sees the availability of fish stocks for commercial fishing around the Island change, the blame is placed on some elected officials.

But despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and the impacts already happening “on the ground,” climate change continues to be politicized, with unfounded accusations of conspiracy and fraud common.

“In the past, dozens of Republican lawmakers have expressed doubts about the scientific reasoning behind passing legislation to mitigate the effects of climate change through votes, tweets, and even comments about the Obama administration's regulations,” Business Insider studied in 2019. “Standing in the way of securing such regulation are more than 100 current members of Congress, who have expressed skepticism about climate science, or concerns about the cost of more regulations. All but one are Republican.”

Six months after taking office, President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. A month after that, he called climate change “a hoax.”

“If the President, with his language, with his direction, saying that climate change is a hoax, and withdrawing from the Paris agreement, because he says it will be too expensive, which is bologna, because even if a country didn't do much towards it, at least there will be some awareness,” Avalos said. “It doesn't cost us any money to be in the Paris agreement.”

Even Vice President Mike Pence, long before he took office in the White House dubbed climate change “a myth” in 2001. During the 2020 vice presidential debates, when asked about the climate crisis he said, "There are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago, but many climate alarmists use hurricanes and fires to try and sell the Green New Deal.”

The Green New Deal is a proposed package of United States legislation that aims to address climate change and economic inequality and is proposed multiple times throughout the 21st century.

The overall denial of the scientific facts and real threat of climate change comes down to one thing, according to Beradelli.

“It has to do with ideology. You go in thinking a certain thing and no amount of facts, I can throw facts that you all day, is ever going to change your mind,” Beradelli argues. “So climate change flies in the face of that because unfortunately we're going to need all shareholders at the table. We're going to need all solutions, every solution we can possibly get to combat what is a huge existential threat of climate change.”

Avalos argues that the GOP is not a monolith and “there are some in the Republican party that are definitely climate activists. They're very conscientious. The first person that comes to mind is Bob Inglis. He was a Congressman in South Carolina. Unfortunately, he spoke up in support of legislation to combat climate change and he got removed from that office.”

“That's part of the reason why I'm still registered as a Republican. Just for the mere fact that it seems like, within the party, there's more people against scientific based thinking, and really just the idea that we should be stewards of our planet rather than destroying it,” he added.

Carpenter, who has held various local political offices on Long Island for nearly 30 years including county legislator, treasurer and currently Town of Islip supervisor, says the issue of climate change should not be political.

“I do believe because the facts back it up now more than ever,” she said. “There is data and facts that show that this is real and certainly I think I'm in a better position to maybe enlighten some people from within rather than trying to do it from the outside if I was a member of the Republican party. And it saddens me sometimes when, especially if it's a high level person who is espousing some of those mistruths, but stay the course.”

The Town of Islip is the third largest town in New York State with over 330,000 people. Part of Carpenter’s area where she oversees is the barrier island of Fire Island which is 31 miles long but at its largest is half-a-mile wide. The barrier island protects the South Shore of Long Island from severe climate destruction but it too is weakening as climate change is getting larger.

Carpenter says that protecting Fire Island is crucial for the future of Long Island and has made it her mission for nearly 30 years. She and members of the town have created a hatchery to farm oysters and clams with millions of shellfish hatched in 2020. Many of those shellfish wind up sold, but most remain in place, helping to filter the water of the Great South Bay.

“One clam filters 30 to 50 gallons of water a day,” she said. “Talk about replenishing the environment and helping clean the Great South Bay.”
Avalos doesn’t hide his Republican bona fides.

“So I've made it known,” he said. “We're supposed to be impartial, or bipartisan, but I could speak the language because I've been involved as a Republican for a while, but when we get the group together, what we want to do, really, is to present as much information as possible, so that he's aware of the legislation that we want him to support.”

He says it is “frustrating” that the party he aligns with has taken a stance against what he firmly believes and what science backs up. Yet, he remains optimistic that the outlook will change “I think something will happen, eventually.”

He also believes this helps when he lobbies his Congressman, Republican Lee Zeldin, to vote for effective climate change legislation.

Zeldin has generally accepted the science of climate change, but critics say Zeldin’s voting record on the issue toes the party line. Inside Edition Digital has reached out to Zeldin for comment on this story and has not heard back.

“We take our cues from them and that's why we are trying so hard as an organization to get Republican elected officials onboard with talking about climate change as much as possible. Because the more Republican elected officials that talk about climate change being a problem and that they want to do something about it and that they want to bring conservative, market-based solutions to the table, then it's going to be easier to convince all of society that we need to invest in those solutions. Because it's not going to just be seen as a party platform issue, but it'll be seen as an actual issue that our country needs to tackle together,” Ashley Hunt-Martorano, marketing manager for Citizens Climate Lobby told Inside Edition Digital.

For all of the hard work being done by those at the Citizens Climate Lobby and other organizations across Long Island and the country to raise awareness of climate change, Hunt-Martorano says the most important thing anyone can do takes all of two minutes.

“What really matters is whether my neighbor calls their member of Congress about climate change,” she said. “That's the individual action that matters and that we're lacking.” 

She said that is what her organization facilities and helps is train volunteers how to speak to elected officials about this serious issue.

“Anything is possible, especially in politics, but I think there's more of an awareness and a desire and a call from the public to say to their elected officials, and I'm going to say elected officials and not politicians, stop being a politician and be an elected official,” Carpenter stated.

While the president called climate change “a hoax” and others deny its mere existence, conspiracy theorists have come front and center to try and undo the work those who accept the science are trying to achieve.

Beradelli noted that when it comes to climate change, there are many conspiracies. “I would say the biggest one is that climate change, combating climate change is just an effort to bring socialism to the world," he said. "That is not the case. I think that's a crazy conspiracy. But it's talked about a lot.”

 

Hunt-Maratorano highlighted the theory that those who say they believe in climate change do so for a payoff. “One of my favorites is that climate scientists are making bank off of the work they're doing to underscore how big a problem climate change is," she said. "When I say one of my favorites, I mean one of the ones I like to roll my eyes at the hardest."

 

The attraction of many conspiracy theories, Beradelli said, is it does in fact often sound too good to be true. “Cherry-picked science information that sounds like maybe it could be plausible so people fall into it, but it's usually cherry-picked, it's usually simplified, and it's never correct," he said. "Because the bottom line is that 99% of scientists that study climate change believe that not only is climate change happening, but that it's caused by human beings,”

 

But Hunt-Maratorano stressed that difference of opinion is important for a healthy society. “Not everyone comes to this from the same perspective and that's fine. That's okay. That's what makes a diverse society, a diverse ecosystem is a healthy ecosystem. Science tells us that. Having diverse views in our government is important, so I don't need everyone to be an environmentalist, but I need them to be listening to different impacts. If I can tell a narrative that connects with them and it motivates them to do something different, that's a success.”

Beradelli believes explaining local impacts is key, saying “you need to talk to people where they are. So you have to tell people how it affects them.” For Long Island that means the risks that come with rising seas.

“We're going to lose a lot of coastal property and not only that, but think about it this way, if you're an insurance company, you're not going to want to insure properties on the water any more,” he argues. “If you're a mortgage company, you're not going to want to offer mortgages on the water anymore because of rising sea levels. So insurance will be harder to get. It'll be more expensive. Mortgages will be harder to get. It will be harder for you to sell your home. So I would say economic impacts on Long Island are going to be very big in the coming decades. Maybe not so much this decade, but certainly within mortgage cycles, certainly within 20, 30, 40 year timeframes.”

Carpenter, too, thinks of the future.

“We know we're right and just make sure you have the data at your fingertips to back it up when you are talking with them, and just make the conversation so that it's impossible for them to deny it,” she said. “As a mother and a grandmother, I worry about not my kids so much, now my grandkids. I've got an 18-year-old granddaughter and a 7-year-old grandson and I want this wonderful, wonderful island to be there, to be pristine, to be all it can be for them and their children and future grandchildren.”

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