Tag Archive | "climate change"

SoFo Hosts Forum on Climate Change

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Experts at SoFo’s climate change forum said ocean levels could rise as much as 30 inches by the year 2050. 

By Mara Certic

After a few record snowstorms left several East End residents and Washington politicians questioning the existence of global warming this winter, the South Fork Natural History Museum (SoFo) held its first annual climate change forum and benefit last Saturday where a panel of six discussed the facts about rising temperatures, the potential side effects, and what East Enders can do to protect Long Island, its shoreline and the planet.

Environmentalists, politicians and academics made up the panel on Saturday night at SoFo, to discuss specifically what climate change means for the East End, and what can be done to mitigate those issues.

Steve Engelbright, a trained geologist turned Suffolk County Legislator for the district surrounding Stony Brook University, moderated the event, answering questions and also giving each speaker time to discuss his expertise.

Carl Safina is an ecologist and fisherman who lives on the East End and works as a professor at Stony Brook University. Mr. Safina has travelled around the world, been to the Arctic and the Antarctic and has noticed worrying trends.

Mr. Safina said that many of the arguments that dispute the existence of climate change have to do with arcane measurements. “If the climate was warming, what would you see?” he asked.

“For one thing the ice would be melting, the sea level would be rising, there would be rain shifts and intensified storms because they’d get strength from the heat of the ocean, and the water’s pH would be declining,” he explained.

“We see all of those things,” he said. Mr. Safina said on his travels, he has seen and heard about glaciers shrinking and moving, and about species of flora and fauna acting strangely. According to Mr. Safina, on the west coast the pH is dropping down low enough to kill oyster larvae; at the southern end of their habitats, lobsters are beginning to disappear, he said.

Mr. Engelbright explained that the model for global warming is short, intense winters and long, hot summers. “It was warm until past Thanksgiving this year,” he noted. “We almost had a spring and now we’re into summer.”

Jack Rivkin, Chief Investing Officer with the Altegris group, spoke about how the issue of climate change has become a religious issue for a lot of people. “I don’t believe climate change is a religion,” he said, “It’s based on facts,” he added.

Mr. Rivkin used the 17th century philosophy of French thinker Blaise Pascal to explain the importance of climate change acceptance.

Pascal’s wager says, in layman’s terms, that whether or not you believe in God, you should always behave as if he exists because there’s a slim risk that he does and will see everything you do.

The same is true for climate change. “Whatever the level of risk is, there is a risk that this is a real problem being caused by what we’re doing,” he said. Mr. Rivkin said that one of the easiest ways for East Enders to begin to delay some changes would be to focus more on renewable energy, specifically by taking advantage of the many state and federal rebates available for those technologies.

“You can make money by taking advantage of what’s going on,” he added, an enviro-economic idea echoed by Peter Boyd, a Senior Advisor at the B Team, a group of business leaders who are searching for a “plan b.”

“You don’t even have to mention the words climate change very often,” Mr. Boyd said, “It’s about fuel savings, and the industry is leaving money on the table,” he said, adding that for a lot of small islands, making the move over to solar and wind energies will not only help environmentally, but should also save money.

The key, Mr. Boyd said, is that we all aim for net zero emissions which means “we are effectively leaving our campsite as we found it,” he explained.

Both Mr. Boyd and Michael Gerrard, an Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Law School and Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change law, spoke about the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

During these climate negotiations, Mr. Gerrard said, countries discuss what temperature increases they could and would tolerate and eventually will make non-binding, non-enforceable pledges to keep the temperatures down. It looks now as though countries will agree that an increase of 3° Celsius is their limit, even though island nations, who will likely drown if the planet warms up by two degrees, have requested it be capped at 1.5 ° increase.

What does that mean for Long Island? Well, he said if the temperature increases by a full three degrees, the ocean level within the next ten years could be six to ten inches more than what it is now. By the year 2050, it will be 15 to 30 inches higher than now. “And if you have a serious storm, you have much more serious flooding,” Mr. Gerrard added.

Sag Harbor Village Trustee Robby Stein spoke about the importance of thinking globally, but acting locally, and echoed panelists’ opinions that the East End should begin to move towards net zero emissions, as soon as possible.

When asked what the average Joe could start doing now to start reversing some of the changes we have seen, the panelists had many suggestions. Mr. Stein focused on the importance of saving rainwater in rain gardens or other structures, while Mr. Gerrard suggested people eat less meat and stop driving SUVs. Mr. Boyd told the audience to stop flying so much.

Councilwoman Bridget Fleming brought up the plans for an offshore wind farm, which LIPA rejected in the winter and asked Mr. Engelbright what the next step is.

Apart from rousing public interest, he had one main piece of advice: “Be mad as hell,” he said, “Because you’re being ripped off.”

East Hampton Town Commits to 100% Renewable Energy by 2030

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By Mara Certic

Environmental advocates celebrated last Thursday the inclusion of East Hampton Town on a list of communities that are committed in the long term to obtaining all of their energy from renewable sources.

The town board voted unanimously to establish the ambitious goal of using renewable energy to meet all of the community’s electricity needs by the year 2020, becoming the first town in the state to set such a goal.

The town intends to meet an equivalent renewable energy goal for the heating, transportation and waste management sectors by the year 2030.

“We are dumping 90 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere on a daily basis,” said Gordian Raacke, founder of Renewable Energy Long Island at an East Hampton Energy and Sustainability forum on  Thursday, May 22. “If we continue business as usual we would get into catastrophic and irreversible effects of climate change,” he said.

“Electricity makes up half of [our carbon] emissions so we can tackle that first half very quickly because we have all our tools in our toolbox, particularly in the electric sector, to generate electricity from renewable resources,” said Mr. Raacke, who is also a member of the East Hampton Energy Sustainability Advisory Committee.

According to Mr. Raacke, Governor Andrew Cuomo has issued an executive order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent in all sectors by 2050.

“Which means essentially we have to stop burning fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy sources,” said Mr. Raacke.

“If someone hears this they may go: ‘Wow, that’s a lofty goal,’” said Energy Sustainability Advisory Committee chairman Frank Dalene. “It’s a high goal, but the energy sustainability committee has already recommended three RFP’s to the town.”

Mr. Dalene was referring to a proposed solar generating facility at the East Hampton Airport, an offshore wind farm 30 miles off of Montauk Point and smaller solar installations proposed for 10 town-owned lots.

“The Deepwater Wind ONE project will be around 200 megawatts. According to their news release, it will generate power for the five East End towns,” said John Botos, an environmental technician for the Town of East Hampton’s Natural Resources Department.

Mr. Botos explained that East Hampton currently uses 20 percent of the electricity consumed by the five East End towns. Therefore, it would only be able to count on 20 percent of the wind farm’s output against its 100-percent goal should the farm come to fruition.

“However, if we count this plus the output from the 70 megawatts of solar proposals, we would achieve slightly more than 100 percent of our current communitywide electricity consumption,” he added.

“We don’t know if they will actually produce this much energy,” Mr. Dalene said about the three proposals. “But we as a committee are not going to stop.”

Mr. Raacke said in Thursday’s meeting that his house, along with many on the East End, is powered entirely by renewable energy. The town has a solar fast-track permitting process, and decisions are made in 14 days or less. The fee has been waived for solar permit applications as an incentive for residents.

“Not everyone is going to be able to afford solar panels,” said Mr. Botos.  But PSEG Long Island, he explained, offers a slew of tax rebate programs for those who choose to switch their homes to use renewable energy; a 30-percent federal tax credit is also available, he said.

“However, it will soon be possible to get solar panels installed with a low-interest loan from New York State and pay it back through on-bill financing on utility bills,” he said. “This means that households could afford solar panels, as there is no upfront cash required.”

The committee stressed that this goal also presents a great economic opportunity, creating jobs and keeping money in the local economy.

Mr. Botos emphasized the importance of public participation in attaining the sustainability goal, which will be augmented by “unplugged” campaigns at schools, community outreach and involvement.

The first step, the committee explained, is to reduce energy consumption. “You’ll waste money on your solar panels if you don’t reduce your energy consumption first,” warned Mr. Dalene.

Mr. Botos recommended that all residents take advantage of the free federally funded home energy audit, and take measures to make their homes more energy-efficient.

“There are a variety of other ways people can get involved. For example, turn off the ‘stand-by’ feature on TVs and gaming systems and unplugging electronics when they are not being used,” he said. “It isn’t enough to just generate electricity from renewable energy, but it is equally important to reduce consumption.”

The simple switch to LED light bulbs makes a difference, he said. The natural resources department has a variety of reimbursement forms on PSEG rebates for a wide array of household appliances.

Towns, cities and countries worldwide have made similar renewable energy goals; Aspen’s goal of using 100-percent renewable energy by the year 2015 is already 75 percent complete.

“All of the studies agree that we can do this, we have the financial wherewithal to make this happen,” said Mr. Raacke. “All that was lacking is the political will and that’s what we now have in this town.”