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Editorial

Earth to America: Climate change is real

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Among the most urgent issues of 2018 was, undoubtedly, the climate — as in the Earth’s temperature over time. It has slowly but steadily been rising for decades, in direct proportion to the amount of greenhouse gases that we emit into our fragile atmosphere.

The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which receives input from 13 U.S. agencies, deliver a report to Congress and the president on the climate every four years. It did so on Black Friday in November, and the document, more than 1,000 pages long, was not pretty.

The research program now directly attributes recent natural disasters such as the mammoth hurricanes down South and the insane wildfires out West to climate change.

“The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country,” the Fourth National Climate Assessment reads. “More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities. Future climate change is expected to further disrupt many areas of life.”

The report contradicts President Trump’s position on global warming — that it’s a hoax.

The story of this report — about an issue consequential to all of our lives — was barely a blip on the national radar screen amid the frantic (albeit vital) coverage of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe and the start of the holiday shopping season. But in 2019, we must start paying attention again to the issue of climate change.

Scientists with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say we are approaching a point of reckoning, when there will be no returning to the Earth as it was — a relatively safe cocoon for humans and billions of other creatures, with a relatively stable, mostly predictable climatic system.

As carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor from fossil-based power plants, factories and vehicles accumulate in the atmosphere, those three gases trap more infrared heat, warming the Earth at an accelerating pace. The point of no return, when the Earth’s climate will destabilize for centuries, perhaps millennia, is 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We reached 400 ppm in 2013, according to NASA.

A warmer Earth means warmer oceans, which means stronger hurricanes, which is bad news for an island that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean — like Long Island.

The world’s nations decided in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 to work collectively to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Countries began signing the treaty on April 22, 2016 — Earth Day. The U.S. was among the signatories — and chief architects — of the accord. Some 194 states and the European Union signed it, and it will take effect in 2020.

Then along came Trump, who announced in the Rose Garden in June 2017 that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. Here’s the thing: The U.S. State Department continues to send envoys to the ongoing climate talks in Bonn, Germany. Why? Because, technically, the U.S. cannot withdraw from the accord until the day after the 2020 presidential election, according to the original treaty.

So, no pressure, but the next presidential election might well determine the fate of the Earth’s climate and all of humanity. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But the next election will decide whether the U.S. rejoins the world’s nations in a massive effort to solve a pressing global problem, or whether it will go it alone, rejecting international consensus. If Trump were re-elected, surely he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord for good. A new president could, however, if he or she chose, continue to abide by the agreement.

Thirteen miles east of Montauk and three miles off Block Island, R.I., five 550-foot-tall windmills now sit in the Atlantic, producing wind-driven energy, free of fossil fuels — no coal, no oil, no natural gas — and producing no greenhouse gases. There are proposals for more windmills off Long Island. A 15-turbine wind farm is planned in the waters 30 miles off Montauk. Another farm, similar in size, has been proposed for the waters 20 to 30 miles south of Long Beach.

Despite claims to the contrary, we must recognize that climate change is real — very real — and renewable energy is our future.